Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pennsylvania GOP Lawmakers Demand Seniority For Themselves But Deny It For Teachers

by Steven Singer, Member of the BAT Leadership Team

originally posted on his blog: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/pennsylvania-gop-lawmakers-demand-seniority-for-themselves-but-deny-it-for-teachers/


Somehow it’s great for legislators, but really bad for people like public school teachers.

At least that was the decision made by Republican lawmakers in the Pennsylvania House Tuesday. They voted along party lines to allow schools to furlough educators without considering seniority.

But the House’s own leadership structure is largely based on seniority!

Hypocrisy much?

Most legislative bodies in the United States from the federal government on down to the state level give extra power to lawmakers based on how long they’ve been there.

Everything from preferential treatment for committee assignments to better office space and even seating closer to the front of the assembly is often based on seniority. Leadership positions are usually voted on, but both Republicans and Democrats traditionally give these positions to the most senior members.

And these same folks have the audacity to look down their noses at public school teachers for valuing the same thing!?

As Philadelphia Representative James Roebuck, ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, said, “If it’s wrong for teachers, why is it right for us?”

If passed by the state Senate and signed by the Governor, the law would allow public schools to lay off teachers based on the state’s new and highly controversial teacher evaluation system.

Teachers with a “failing” ranking would go first, then those with a “needs Improvement,” label.

This system is largely untested and relies heavily on student standardized test scores. There is no evidence it fairly evaluates teachers, and lawsuits certainly would be in the wings if furloughs were made based on such a flimsy excuse.

Value-Added Measures such as these have routinely been criticized by statisticians as “junk science.”

It’s kind of like giving legal favor to the management practices of Darth Vader. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” when one of his minions displeased him, he choked them to death with the Force.

No second chances. No retraining. No due process. One misplaced foot and you’re gone.

Pennsylvania’s proposed method isn’t quite so harsh, but it’s essentially the same. You’re fired because of this flimsy teaching evaluation that has no validity and can really say whatever management wants it to say.

Technically, things like salary are not allowed to be considered, but given the unscientific and unproven nature of this evaluation system, management could massage evaluations to say anything. Administrators didn’t mean to fire the teachers with the highest salaries but those voodoo teaching evaluations said they were “failing.” What are you gonna’ do? OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!

While seniority is not a perfect means of selecting who gets laid off, at least it’s impartial. Moreover, teachers who have lasted in the classroom longest almost always are highly skilled. You don’t last in the classroom if you can’t hack it.

Being a public school teacher is a highly political job. Your boss is the school board and members are elected by the community. While many school directors have the best interests of their districts at heart, favoritism, nepotism and political agendas are not unknown. Teachers need protections from the ill-winds of politics so they can be treated fairly and best serve their students. Otherwise, it would be impossible – for instance – to fairly grade a school director’s child in your class without fear of reprisal.

As it stands, state school code specifically mandates layoffs to be made in reverse seniority order, also known as “first in, last out.” Pennsylvania is one of six states that calls for this to be the sole factor in school layoff decisions.

It’s unclear how the legislature could pass a law that contradicts the school code without specifically voting to alter the code which governs the Commonwealth’s public schools.

Moreover, it may be illegal on several additional counts. Public school districts have work contracts with their teachers unions. The state can’t jump in and void those contracts between two independent parties when both agreed to the terms of those contracts. Not unless there was some legal precedent or unconstitutionality or violation of human rights or SOMETHING!

Get our your pocketbooks, Pennsylvanians. If this law is somehow enacted, you’re going to be paying for years of court challenges.

And speaking of flushing money down the toilet, the law also allows school districts to furlough employees for financial reasons. At present, layoffs are allowed only when enrollment drops or by cutting programs wholesale.

This is especially troubling given the legislature’s failure the past four years to fairly fund its public schools. Ninety percent of school districts have had to cut staff in recent years, either through attrition or furlough, according to the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

So this law makes it easier to rob poorer schools of funding. If it were enacted, districts could fire teachers and reduce programs to pinch pennies. Now they are constrained to keep the highest possible level of quality for students regardless of funding shortfalls. This puts them at odds with the legislature and forces them to demand fair funding for their districts. Under this new law, school boards could more easily ensure that some students get a higher quality education than others in the same district!

Oh! We increased class size for the struggling students (most of whom are poor and minorities) but decreased it for the advanced classes (most of whom are rich and white).

Finally, we get to the issue of viability. Will the state Senate pass this bill?


The House passed it without a single Democrat voting in favor. The Senate is likewise controlled by the GOP. However, Gov. Tom Wolf is a Democrat and has said he’s against it. Seniority issues, he said, should be negotiated through the local collective bargaining process.

So once again we have partisan politics reigning over our public schools – Republicans actively trying to sabotage our public schools and fire their way to the top! Democrats vainly trying to hold the line.

Couldn’t we all just agree to value our public schools and public school teachers?

Or at very least couldn’t we all agree to give others the same benefits we demand for ourselves?

You know. Things like seniority!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Education Equity:  failing funding or fair funding?… Be part of the solution!

By:  Daun Kauffman
Originally published on http://lucidwitness.com/2015/06/27/education-equity-failing-funding-or-fair-funding-be-part-of-the-solution/
Grateful thanks  
A heartfelt tip of the hat to the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC) of Pennsylvania !   They have led us, the nation, to a place in history where we get to be part of the “tipping point” of a dramatic turn toward educational equity.
Public domain
Public domain
No doubt that the task was daunting.  Education funding-concerns are very weighty and very high-profile in Pennsylvania.  House Bill 1738 set up the BEFC and tasked it to “develop a basic education funding formula and identify factors that may be used to determine the distribution of basic education funding among the school districts …”
No doubt BEFC research and analysis, coupled with focus, persistence and thoroughness have produced a historic recommendation.  A recommendation worthy of equally profound action from each of us.


Education Equity

The BEFC recommended factors required for fair funding.  Eight factors are included in a proposed ‘formula’ and eight factors are recommended for consideration by the full General Assembly.
The most pivotal equity-factor is found on page 69 of the document entitled “BEFC Report and Recommendations” (June 18, 2015):

“The [PA] Department of Education should consider devising protocols and measures to identify students in trauma.”
The BEFC recommendation continues with:

“The Commission recognizes that students in trauma may be more costly to educate and the application of weights to this factor based on reliable data may be merited.”
Childhood trauma is the “most pivotal factor” in education equity because of both its wide scope and its deep impact on children’s ability to learn.  It will be historic for any state to attack this  inequity, via  an explicit funding mandate, statewide, across five-hundred school districts.


Childhood Trauma is not “poverty”.  Research shows that about half of those living in poverty do not experience debilitating trauma.  Poverty does have a myriad of impacts on learning to be sure, but they are not necessarily traumatic impacts.
Childhood Trauma is a response of overwhelming, helpless terror to event(s) some call “Adverse Childhood Experience” (ACE): Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Physical Neglect, Emotional Neglect, Single Parent Home (due to any: separation, divorce, incarceration), Household violence, Community violence, Household substance abuse, Household mental illness, and more.
Photo  credit Maestro Pastelero
Photo credit Maestro Pastelero

Deep Impact

The impact of childhood trauma changes children’s physical brains, and impairs their cognitive and social functioning and ultimately their life trajectories. The children are not bad or sick, they are injured.  The neuroscience is compelling. Childhood trauma connects directly to education via its toxic stress effects on development of the physical brain.  When children live in a  chronic, traumatic state of survival, the unresolved toxic stress damages the function and structure of their still-developing brains. These injuries relate specifically to the prefrontal cortex and academic processes, especially crucial executive function, memory and literacy. The physiological process also leads kids to distorted perceptions of social cues, which alter their social behaviors in response.  Eminently logical defenses in the midst of trauma (hyper-vigilance, dissociation), become ingrained habits, and then destructive, once the threat is extinguished, but the defense pattern remains.

Wide Scope

The wide scope is stunning!  Based on research in the USA, childhood trauma rates vary in a range from 22%  to 45+% of children impacted by 3 or more categories of trauma — in many districts the scope is greater than English Language Learners (ELL) or those with an Individual Education Plan (IEP).   In some urban locations (pg. 17 map) the prevalence is greater than ELL and IEP students combined!  Researchers including our own Department of Justice report the scope as massive, “an epidemic”, or a “national crisis”, particularly in urban areas.
Findings from public health research are convicting.  The groundbreaking “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study” by Felitti and Anda/CDC found a “strong correlation between the extent of exposure to childhood ACEs and several leading causes of death in adulthood, including depression, heart disease, liver disease and stroke”
Center for Disease Control
Center for Disease Control
This study uncovered devastation that is no respecter of demographics, zip code or socio-economic status.  CDC researchers found roughly one-fourth, of beautiful suburban San Diego’s, mostly middle class, mostly white, working folks with medical insurance had experienced 3 or more ACEs!
Three or more ACEs is significant because experiencing 3 or more ACEs correlates with doubled risk of depression, adolescent pregnancy, lung disease, and liver disease. It triples the risk of alcoholism and STDs.  There is a 5X increase in attempted suicide.  It doesn’t just go away.  A detailed anecdotal narrative called “Danny goes to school” provides more insight.  Later, unaddressed trauma results in work absenteeism, lost productivity and more, measured in hundreds of billions of dollars, nationally.
Still today, at best, trauma-impacted children are invisible (see “What’s Missing?”) in the data and analyses.   At worst the data is outright misleading, especially for our understanding of academic results (including “standardized test” results).  Until now, attempts to analyze data all completely miss the deep impact on learning and massive scope of childhood trauma (Try asking for ACE-adjusted, test scores).

Evolving precision

Several members of the BEFC rightly raise crucial questions about how we can get to specific measures of scope and the cost factors for trauma.  Follow-up papers here will provide detail regarding screening measures and cost factors.  However, a key perspective is that we are leading the way, the front line of equity for trauma-impacted children.  A poignant awakening for us all.  We can choose to start with best-estimates and adjust as we go.  Conversely, delaying for every detail to be precisely quantified is too costly and too inequitable.
A starting point for screening can be as simple as the “ACE score” derived by counselors as part of annual school registration or re-registration.  A wide range of other screening measures is available at the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website.
A starting cost-priority in addressing the learning impacts of trauma is training of teachers and staff.  The most efficient approach is through the “first responders” already seeing the children every day.  Training must be an on-going requirement for all adults in a district, as part of a priority to: 1) deliver “safety”, 2) understand complexity of teaching trauma-impacted children, and 3) respond appropriately, including avoiding re-triggering old trauma.  Training options include “Institute for Family Professionals” (IFP), a division of Lakeside Education Network, right here in Pennsylvania, and Sanctuary Institute, a division of ANDRUS.
Other crucial incremental costs will include smaller class-sizes, with limits on trauma-impacted children per classroom.  Also, dedicated appropriate space(s) for children to de-escalate, and on-site counselors, that is District counselors, who build on-going relationships with the children and families in the school community. These are all starting points, to be refined as we go.

Immediate priority

What remains is the immediate priority for the full General Assembly to act formally.  We need them to explicitly acknowledge the power of childhood trauma by acting to include it in a “fair” funding formula as per the BEFC recommendation (weighting and costs to be estimated and then refined as we go).  The kids are waiting.

Join the movement:     If we all work together…

Photo © Ada Gonzalez Kauffman
Photo © Ada Gonzalez Kauffman
Please take a moment to write to your own legislators now, whether in Pennsylvania or elsewhere.  Sample below.
Pennsylvanians:  Please write or call now.  Simply click on this link, or search “find your legislator, PA General Assembly”, then click on a single legislator’s name.  (Most have an email link.  Many have a Facebook page.) Thirdly, cut and paste the short note below (or compose your own)  into their contact form with your name/address.  Please add your voice today!
Those from out-of-state can write the Co-chairs of the BEFC  here.  Equally important, those from afar can further expedite ‘tipping’ by raising nationwide visibility of trauma-impacted children and Pennsylvania’s dramatic and comprehensive shift in equity(share this post widely). We all have the chance to participate in the tipping point toward equity for trauma-impacted children. It’s an exhilarating time.  Join us as we all together make history.
Sample note to General Assembly legislators:

Dear ____________,
Thank you for establishing the BEFC and charging them with the daunting task of creating a fair funding formula! 
Please continue the profound work the BEFC started by adding childhood trauma as an explicit factor to the “Fair Funding Formula”   Please authorize a high priority effort to identify screening protocols and weights for the costs of educating trauma-impacted students. Meanwhile, please endorse best-effort estimates of those measures (to be refined as we go). 
Again, thank you for your part in getting us to this exciting tipping point toward Pennsylvania’s new leadership in educational equity.
Saying Goodbye: Time to Speak the Truth

by Robin Harris Newhall, a Massachusetts BAT


Today I said goodbye to one of the nicest groups of kids I've ever worked with. I said goodbye to a loyal and excellent para who has stood by me through thick and thin. I also said goodbye to a fantastic and energetic co-teacher who helped me bring fun back into the classroom. 

The hardest goodbye today was that of my teaching career. I resigned from the only job I've ever known. I could no longer continue the cycle of abuse I felt I was forced to implement on my students and myself. I have never been driven by salary, competition, recognition etc... I have always found motivation to succeed by being creative, passionate, happy with a job well done and pleasing my soul and that of others. 

Unfortunately, there is no longer any room for that in our public schools. It's all about an agenda, driven by data and individuals who want schools to become private corporations where billions will be made. Everyday I see this agenda and those that support it grow more and more powerful. This year, I witnessed more corruption, greed and abuse of power than I have seen in my twenty two years as a teacher. An environment that breeds fear, hostility and submission is no good for anyone, especially our children. 

I'm not one to run nor sit back and be silent. Being quiet, submissive and without tenure is what they want. Make no mistake, creating public schools to resemble that of private corporations is their exact intention. When you make no attempt as a leader to educate yourself and to make sense of this agenda, you fall victim to it. Worse, you drive it, promote it and believe it.

I want to make myself very clear, I am not leaving my peers and especially the children behind. A fight has been ignited within and I can't ignore it. The take over of our public schools and the regime of high-stakes test supporters, union breakers and unfair evaluations is a blatant and bold invasion of our civil rights and a damaging blow to the very principles of democracy! Our children are it's most tragic victims. 

So what do I say to these reformers and anyone else who has jumped on this toxic, destructive ride? I no longer have a paycheck tied to a reputation that could be slaughtered nor the fear of any other retribution. I can speak the truth freely, rally and have more time to write, research and educate. Movement, commitment, fighting this fight will make me weary, but submission and obedience would break me! I'm all in. Game on!

Selling the Big Lies About Schools and Teachers on Sci-Fi Fantasy TV

                                          Screen shot 2015-06-18 at 10.58.36 AM
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
Malcolm X
I’m with Brother Malcolm on this.

The media matters. And not just the news.

We learn what is real from the stories we tell ourselves and allow to be told about us. We construct our view of reality based on fairy tales, soap operas, rap lyrics and energy drink commercials.

There are cultural truths left unspoken that govern the very way we think. When the media speaks, we listen.
How dangerous, then, that we allow money to write the script. We let the 1% define who is an enemy and who is a friend. It’s no surprise that this almost always aligns with their interests.

As a public school teacher, I am an enemy of the plutocracy. I dare to teach children – even poor children, especially poor children – that knowledge is free. I stand in the way of the monetization of our schools. So I am a frequent target of attack.

It happened most recently in such a subtle way you might not even notice it. Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers briefly shifting the narrative of science fiction/fantasy to increase the bottom line.

Marvel Studios is often concerned with escapism. But this season, two of its television shows – Marvel’s Agents of Shield and Daredevil – offered brief propaganda amid the comic book action.

Agents of Shield is a superhero/spy drama that connects the production company’s big budget blockbuster films – Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers, etc. It follows the escapades of a well-meaning intelligence agency made up of folks without super powers trying to deal with a world where super heroes are becoming more common.

This season on the ABC drama, one of the major arcs focused on Skye, a young woman just getting used to her super powers, and her quest to find her mother and father both of whom had abandoned her as a baby.
When she finally meets her dad, Cal, he is a mentally unbalanced enemy of Shield . However, as time goes on, Skye begins to see a nicer side to him.

In episode 2X18 “Frenemy of my Enemy,” the two spend the day together walking around Milwaukie and have a conversation about why she had been deserted as an infant. It was all rather interesting until they walked through a puddle of stinking corporate school reform.

Cal talks about how he and Skye’s mom had planned to raise her before they were thwarted by the evil Hydra organization. He talks about the nice middle class suburb where he had bought a home. He talks about the cute local businesses. And to show what an awe shucks great dad he might have been, he rhapsodizes about a really good local charter school where they were going to send her.
Skye: So, you had a … you had a practice here?
Cal: Yeah, before I met your mother.
Skye: She was a doctor, too?
Cal: Studying to be one. She had a natural gift for it … compassionate, beyond intelligent, wise … always five steps ahead of me. She wanted to finish med school here. Oh, and there was this great, little charter school just around the corner.
Skye: A charter school for medicine?
Cal: What? [Chuckling] Oh, no, not for her … for you. Oh, it was gonna’ be perfect. I was gonna’ drop you off every morning and pick you up, help you with your science fair project … the volcano, because who doesn’t love a volcano, right? We’d go to the father-daughter dances together, get ice cream. Ah, the life we could have had … should have had…
A charter school!?

Are you freaking kidding me!?

First of all, let’s talk continuity error. The first charter school law wasn’t even passed until 1991 in Minnesota. Skye was born in 1988. There were no charter schools in existence when Cal was musing about sending his infant daughter to one. Moreover, Wisconsin didn’t allow charter schools until 1993, long after Skye was separated from her parents!

But putting aside issues of believability (This is a show where people have super powers, after all) the charter school reference is hardly organic. It’s used as an emotional shorthand to show that Cal was a good father once. And you know what else is all warm and fuzzy? Those plucky charter schools. Shouldn’t you consider enrolling your child in one today?

However, charter schools have a terrible academic record. They either do no better than traditional public schools or – in most cases – much worse. In fact, for-profit charters are notorious because – unlike public schools – they don’t have to spend all of their budgets on kids. They’re big business producing huge profits for investors at the expense of student learning. Just google “charter school scandals.”

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of that lucrative taxpayer money may be finding its way into Marvel’s coffers to buy advertising space on Agents of Shield.

Product placement: drinking a Coke, driving a Toyota and – now – if only daddy could have sent me to a charter school.

Instead Skye had to deal with a life in an orphanage, at foster homes and – yuck! – the public school system!
Even worse, though, is the outright libel on Daredevil, a show delivered streaming on Netflix.

Most of the time it’s a pretty good action thriller about a blind lawyer who moonlights as a vigilante superhero fighting crime. (Yeah. He has superpowers, too, kinda.)

One of the supporting characters is Ben Urich, a grizzled seen-it-all investigative reporter. While New York’s Hell’s Kitchen is being taken over by the evil businessman, Wilson Fisk, some of Daredevil’s friends try to convince Urich to write about Fisk in the newspaper.
In episode 1X04 “In The Blood,” Urich warns feisty secretary Karen Page about how dangerous it is to go after nefarious evil organizations – like the mob, corporate polluters, the VA and – gasp – the teachers union!
Karen goads him by saying, “I read every big story with your byline. The VA kickbacks, toxic runoff, the Teachers Union scandal. Hell, you pretty much brought down the Italian mob back when I was in diapers. What ever happened to that reporter, Mr. Urich?”
Ben Urich: You said you read a bunch of my articles. Remember the one about the, uh the runoff? What that company was dumping into the river?
Karen Page: Yeah, sure.
Ben Urich: Fished the guy that tipped me off out of that same river a month later. And that fella trying to clean up the Teachers Union? Moved out of state after flyers went up saying he was a pedophile. They underestimated what people in power will do to stay there.
So in the Marvel Universe, the ultimate evils are Red Skull, Loki, Thanos and public school teachers.
I’ve got to tell you my union must really be slacking. We never seem to get to world domination at our meetings.

I pay my dues. How come I’ve never gotten to whack anyone? Why haven’t any of our members – who by law can’t have a criminal record to work with children – why haven’t any of us ever slandered each other as pedophiles? All we do is talk about how to make our school better for both the students and our members.
But those big corporations drooling all over themselves at the prospect of privatizing public education dollars sure do hate us. We’re the last line of defense stopping them from stealing from the piggy bank of tax money put aside to educate your child.

So it’s no wonder some of their shadowy money donated by multi-billionaires like the Koch Brothers and the Walton family probably made its way into Marvel’s bank account.

I can’t prove that Marvel Studios took a cent to write either of those episodes. The Daredevil script was written by Joe Pokaski, a television writer for other genre shows like Heroes and also a Marvel comic book author. The Shield episode was written by Monica Owusu-Breen, one of the show’s co-executive producers. She also has a long career writing for television.

Maybe they each just have personal axes to grind.

Or maybe vampire organizations trying to bleed public money into their bank books might use some of that blood money to soften their image and take down their enemies.

Hey, Daredevil! Hey, Agents of Shield! Maybe if you really want to root out evil, your next mission should be at Marvel Studios! Because making nefarious charter schools look just swell and attacking school teachers – that’s not something heroes do.

“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.”
Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent
“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”
Adolph Hitler

Friday, June 26, 2015

#LessTesting #Yes2TesterAmend - National Twitter Storm

Take ActionàKill the Federal Annual Testing Mandate. You can help roll back testing overkill by acting today! Tell your two U.S. Senators to vote for Sen. Jon Tester’s amendment to reduce federally mandated standardized testing from every-kid-every-year to once each in elementary, middle and high schools. The Senate will vote the week of July 7 on a new federal education law to replace “No Child Left Behind.” The bill ends federally mandated high stakes for schools and teachers. That’s big progress for assessment reformers! But the proposal maintains annual testing in grades 3-8. Sen. Tester’s amendment will end that damaging policy. We can win if you act now! Every Senator matters. Send this letter http://www.fairtest.org/roll-back-standardized-testing-send-letter-congres or call your Senators today. (For phone numbers, see http://www/senate.gov; Tester introduced his amendment as bill number S.1025.)

Thank you.

Here are some messages to tweet and post;
Here are federal lawmakers on twitter  - https://twitter.com/gov/lists/us-senate/members
 Vote YES 2 the Tester Amendment  #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting

Support Sen. Tester’s amendment (S. 1025) to reduce fed standardized testing #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting

Students need more time for learning & less for testing —#Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting

Say NO to Test Prep under NCLB and #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting

Studies show that testing overkill most acute in schools serving our neediest children #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting

With NCLB, students got narrow test prep and slower academic growth #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting

 NAEP shows rate of improvement in reading & math slowed under NCLB test prep  #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting

Across the U.S., parents, students, teachers & communities demand end to misuse & overuse of testing #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting

Surveys show public knows increased testing did not improve public schools #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting

A majority of voters want less testing. #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting

Reducing federal testing to once each in elementary, middle & high school will provide enough info 2 help kids #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting
Vote for less testing #Yes2TesterAmend #lesstesting
Support Tester Amendment!  #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting
Reduce Fed. Testing Mandate NOW!  #Yes2TesterAmend  #lesstesting

Why Are Black People So Nonviolent? And Why Aren’t Whites?

by Steven Singer, member of the BAT Leadership Team

originally posted on his blog: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/why-are-black-people-so-nonviolent/

If hate were a sport, I’d bet on white.

Really. We’re good at it.

White people have been hating, brutalizing and killing people way more effectively than black people for – well – ever.

Don’t be modest, Caucasians. The Holocaust, ethnic cleansing, colonization of Africa and the Caribbean, American slavery, Native American Genocide, Jim Crow – we’re the world freakin’ champions!

But somehow in the media it’s the black man who is portrayed as the savage.

It’s just not fair. We white folks are so much better at race-based aggression than our darker complected brothers.

Just this Wednesday a white guy walked into a historic African American Church in South Carolina, was accepted as part of the service, stayed for about an hour before shouting a spiteful message and gunning down several parishioners!

Now that’s some hate right there!

But at first the people on my TV refused to give us white folks credit. They were questioning everything from the killer’s motives to his race! As if this had to be a black man in white face persecuting the faithful! Not some kind of hate crime!

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the media narrative always runs counter to the truth of the violent white man and in favor of the myth of the savage black man.

Whenever anyone brings up race and violence, the first thing people mention is crime.

There is more black-on-black crime than white-on-black crime, they say. And they’re correct!

According to a 2013 FBI Uniform Crime Report, when it comes to murder, 90 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders.

However, what people fail to mention is that according to the very same report, 83 percent of white victims were killed by white offenders, too.

These numbers don’t show black people are more violent than white people. They show that BOTH white and black people would rather kill within their own race.

Screen shot 2015-06-18 at 10.33.37 PM

In terms of raw numbers, black people and white people actually commit about the same number of murders. But you wouldn’t know that from the media.

I don’t know why these media types aren’t wringing their hands over the spurt of white violence in this country instead of spending valuable broadcasting minutes exclusively on black people.

You’d almost think they were biased or something, trying to spin the truth, tell you a story that wasn’t entirely factual.

And speaking of bad arguments, this one has suddenly shifted.

We started talking about race-based aggression and we suddenly shifted to all violence. Let’s get back to hate crimes, because that’s really the area where white people excel.

The FBI is charged under the Hate Crime Statistics Act with compiling statistics on spite-based legal transgressions. In its most recent report, for 2013, hate crimes based on race are far more numerous than any other kind.

Screen shot 2015-06-18 at 10.28.45 PM

Moreover, bias-motivated infractions against black folks far exceed those against white people.

According to the FBI statistics, 54.5 percent of the reported single-bias hate crimes that were racially motivated in 2013 targeted blacks. Only 16.3% target whites.

Screen shot 2015-06-18 at 10.28.26 PM

But you really didn’t need an FBI report to tell you that, did you? American history is littered with the bodies of beaten and brutalized people of color. You could make a very convincing argument that these dead souls make up the foundation of our country. Would our economy really have been so robust without the free labor of all those slaves? Heck! Would we even have a country at all if we hadn’t murdered all those indigenous peoples in the first place?

I know. You’re going to say that other predominately white countries have violent histories, too. And you’d be right. But notice the difference in our attitudes about it today!

Historically, Germany is no slacker when it comes to racial violence, but is there any government building in the German Republic today that continues to fly a Nazi flag? Absolutely not. In fact, it is illegal to do so.
By contrast, in America we love the stars and bars of the Confederate flag. It still waves proudly over the South Carolina capital building. (But I’m sure that has nothing to do with the violence we saw at that Charleston church I mentioned earlier!)

So let’s put it to rest. When it comes to hate crimes, white folks kill! But don’t feel too bad, black folks. There are things you’re good at, too. Like nonviolent resistance.

Heck! You’re amazing at that!

Langston Hughes wrote, “Negroes – Sweet and docile, Meek, humble, and kind: Beware the day – They change their mind.”

After all this time, black people have very rarely used violence as a means to achieve their ends, to try to secure the rights and freedoms white America guards so jealously.

In just the past year or so, unarmed black folks have been assaulted or killed for holding toy guns, being suspected of selling loose cigarettes, listening to music at a gas station, asking for help after a car accident, wearing hoodies, wearing bikinis, running, and now just going to church!

And the response from the black community has been pretty darn nonviolent. Yeah there’s been some shouting and looting, but very little beating or killing.

White folks, can you imagine having to undergo such indignity on a daily basis and NOT responding in kind!?

No wonder a blonde white girl from a Christian fundamentalist home darkened her skin, curled her hair and tried to pass as black! Sometimes – often really – it’s darn embarrassing to be white! Black folks have the moral high ground.

Somehow they live in an American society that heaps hatred on their every move and they respond with dignity and perseverance.

So why are black people so nonviolent?

Damned if I know! But I wish us white folks would take a lesson from them.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Emma Akins, Washington State Student

Each morning we wake up; eat a sugary cereal that's supposed to pass as nutrition,
Then go to the home of a harsh reality.
We study and study until we forget how to remember.

Whether it’s an 1800 on the SAT or a 7 in IB, you'll never feel good enough.
3 or 300 more than you needed but people still doubt your intelligence, your kindness, your beauty.
Then you start to doubt it yourself.
A warped sense of reality sends your mind to the depths of dark and d minuses.

We compare ourselves from the beginning.
First we learn the alphabet, then we learn why some kids who try their best still can’t pay for college.
We learn how to write then find about the rights that only some kids get in their classrooms.

We also compare the similarities that should bring us together. We start as kings of the class that grades everyone equally and when they really start measuring we finally realize that our parents lied to us about always being the best.

My life has become a vicious cycle of not enough sleep
Never enough sleep
Maybe everything would be ok if I could just get a little more sleep.

But I can't
A chemical imbalance in my head leaves me in a trance every night half past ten
But they still tell us that we aren't really that tired. We're just lazy teenagers who can't put down the phones that connect us to the only reality that we know. We're too lazy to function but they put us in charge of our future.

Take your choice:
PSSC-pick a career, any career
Take that one class that you can only hope leads to a passion because you won’t get a second chance.

Or Running start-throw yourself into the ocean called college that this school never really prepared you for.

Or maybe IB-give away two years of your life for a 1/20 chance of getting that diploma that will show colleges that you kinda tried hard in high school, but where were all of your extracurriculars? Oh yeah, you didn't have time for them.

I’m looking at this as an insider, though
The teacher’s pet
The try hard
The goody goody that always does her homework
But still never feels entitled to that A

A label on my paper is a label on my soul, above or below average
Should never be our goal.

You teach integrity, but we learn that cheating feels easier than failing.
You show us individuality; we learn how to blend in.
You taught us that education is necessary, but our health is not a necessity.

You teach math.
You teach equality.
You teach conformity.

So school district
Test me
Test me
Test me
Maybe one day you'll get the score that you want from me
Maybe one day my diploma will hold up my family like a rock under a table that’s wobbly.

Yeah ill raise the average score with my fast heart rate pushing me to study more and sleep less.
My twitching nerves telling me that after the test I can finally rest.

I'll keep coming to school rockin' my business casual because I've heard it makes you test better.

And I’ll try to ignore my friend struggling in the corner
Because English isn't her first language yet she’s tested on it like the rhythm of her Tagalog grammar was never the beat they wanted to hear.

She used a comma instead of a period and misspelled the word stupid even though the word is constantly running through her head in the classroom.
So let’s review, there won’t be a study guide and the test covers every word I've said throughout the course. I hope you took notes.

No, we aren't perfect
Our tongues may slip and drop a swear on the teacher that took our phone.
Our immaturity makes itself known when we have to eat vegetables that weren't really grown.
Procrastination runs through our bodies like blood.
But some of us are struggling inside our minds as well as inside our homes.

Don’t test our memory and quiz our conformity. I don't want my future to stem from the panic flowing through my mind and I don’t want to be a part of a system that tells us to win, but teaches us how to lose.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Open Letter to LAUSD Leaders
By:  Karen Wolfe

Dear LAUSD Leaders,

The draconian removal of classroom teachers after complaints of almost any nature has turned California's largest school district into the Gulag. The case of Mr. Rafe Esquith--nationally recognized educator, three-time author, and respected teacher of so many students--is an egregious example.   http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-esquith-investigation-20150617-story.html According to published reports, after complaints about teaching passages from Huckleberry Finn, he was removed from his classroom in March. The LA Times reported that he has been cleared by the state of California but not by LAUSD.

There is no good reason to treat complaints about curriculum or field trip slips with the same alarm as accusations regarding child endangerment. The upheaval for students and schools is too costly, as is the impact on the employee and other teachers who fear they are next. This is not conducive to educators doing their best work. My heart aches for the 5th graders who celebrated their matriculation to middle school without their beloved teacher who helped them achieve that milestone.

As a parent leader in LAUSD, I appreciate the district's diligent acceptance of its primary responsibility for the safety of the children in its care. At the same time, I am beginning to understand the unusual limitations with UTLA's legal support. But enough is enough. This is the ultimate in those "adult conflicts" that leaders grandstand about stopping. These political disappearances of teachers make LAUSD look like a banana republic. Unfortunately, it is the students who are hurt the most. I implore you to use urgency to fix this policy once and for all.

Karen Wolfe

Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the people murdered in the Emanuel African Methodist (AME) Church in Charleston, SC, and to their community. We share in their grief. America’s long history of racism is still with us, and it remains deadly to our communities of color. We must all commit to ending racism. Our thoughts are with Charleston during this tragic time."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

By:  Jeanette Deutermann, Founder of Long Island Opt Out

Here's where we stand. Legislators voted against children by passing Cuomo's revenge policy with the bill. They tried to pass the buck to the regents to fix their mess, and 6 of the regents voted to break this new law and vote with their conscience. It was not the majority, but it was enough to make a HUGE statement that the board is now ALMOST equally divided. It also showed loud and clear that the current law is so screwed up that our own BOR came very close to voting historically to refuse to regulate a morally unjust law. Our disappointment must not overshadow that action. A large and growing group of superintendents have stepped in front of their state organizations, and come out swinging not for themselves, but for our children. Union groups like ST Caucus and MORE, are challenging the current UFT/NYSUT/AFT leadership and speaking for TRUE rank and file members and putting kids at the forefront. We must continue to add fuel to those flames and turn it into a bonfire. Coalitions and opposition are growing in the most important places, with parents leading the way and defining what is important. The 4 month extension on the new APPR regulations was important because it takes the enacting of the new APPR law into the next legislative session. Guess what? Next session is an election year. This means our legislators will be stumbling over each other to be the hero and save the day. APPR changes will not take place until September 2016. As it stands now, 50% will be based on state test scores. If a district choses a local assessment, it will be 25% and 25%. We will continue to get more information on the local component (kind of tests, who sets target scores etc...) Through all of these regulation changes, remember: WE HOLD THE POWER TO VETO!!! Through opting out, we will veto Cuomo's new APPR plan. We will veto CC test prep. We will veto high stakes testing. When we veto, the system will fall. We are the last line of defense between Cuomo, the reformers and privatizers, and our children. WE WILL HOLD THE LINE!!!

You can follow Jeanette on Twitter @JeanetteDeut
Follow LIOO on twitter at @LIOptOut

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

An Applause As No Other!

by Larry Proffitt, Member of the BAT Leadership Team

Today I attended the high school graduation of my niece in Wilmington, NC. A large class sat through the routine of a ceremony always held precious by so many. When the time finally came for what the graduates had awaited, the room was greeted by thunderous ovations for the first to wheel, walk and stumble upon the stage. These were those with goals as any other student, but they had achieved to their best abilities against the exceptional circumstances which were a part of their everyday lives. These were the special needs students, and their triumphs were recognized wholeheartedly by not only the guests in attendance, but by those who knew them best, their graduating classmates.


Many children were celebrated on this day and were applauded by their families and friends, but there was no applause to measure against the applause of that first row of students. Their every move and expression sent electricity through the room and all contained within. The help and recognition this group of students received from their classmates moved me to tears. They were tears of happiness for those being appreciated so openly, but they also contained a hint of sadness as I realized sitting there, that our government no longer appreciates our students as individual nor exceptional. But for now, I will bask in their glory as I absorb the applause they received, an applause as no other!

The Only Teaching Evaluation That Matters

by Steven Singer, member of the BAT Leadership Team

originally posted on his blog: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/13/the-only-teaching-evaluation-that-matters/

Screen shot 2015-06-12 at 10.40.16 PM

“Yes, my writing got a lot better than what I was, and I love writing now. And you pushed me to do better. Not a lot of teachers push their students, some teachers don’t care about their students.”


One of my 8th graders wrote that to me on the last day of school.

I had asked her class to fill out an anonymous survey about my teaching. I said that all year I get to grade THEM, but this was their chance to grade ME.

I made sure to explain that they didn’t need to put their names on it. This would not be graded. Spelling and grammar didn’t count. The only thing I wanted was honesty.

I told them I wouldn’t personally collect the surveys. They should NOT hand them to me; they should put them in a pile on the desk by the door when they leave. I promised I wouldn’t even look at what they’d written until class was over. That way they could feel free to write whatever they wanted. If I did something bad or there was some way I could improve, I wanted them to tell me. If I did something exceptionally well, they should tell me that, too.

“Please help me become a better teacher,” I said.

As an 8th grade public school educator, I get evaluated a lot. I’ve spent countless hours gathering evidence that I’m “proficient” at my job.

I’ve had to endure formal observations, informal observations, H.E.A.T. observations, Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), written explanations of specific lessons with appeals to which Common Core standards I would be teaching – and there always seems to be a new one added to this list next year.

But I’ve been giving a version of this simple student survey to my classes on the last day of school for over a decade.

It’s not something I’m required to do. I don’t share the results with administration. The responses don’t go on file, increase my pay or get recorded in the newspaper. They don’t become part of the district’s ranking in the Business Times. No one is going to withhold funding from my district or close my building and convert it into a charter school based on these results. No one ever will be on television decrying the state of public education referencing these surveys. They are low stakes, class-based, teacher-centered and personal.
But I do this because I think it actually gives me useful information. I really want to know what my students think. That’s one of the things that truly drives my instruction. Not politically motivated standards monetarily incentivized and adopted before they were even completely written. Not standardized tests that measure little more than parental income. Not the latest fad handed down by the superintendent. Not a threat shouted at us through an email or at a faculty meeting.

No. I’m motivated by my kids in the classroom and the answer to the question, “Have I helped you learn?”

The survey is quite simple really. It’s two-sided.

On the front page are 5 multiple choice questions:

1) The amount of written homework I had in this class was                             in my other classes.

A) much more than
B) Somewhat more than
C) The same as
D) Somewhat less than
E) Much less than

2) The amount of reading I had in this class was                                in my other classes.

A) much more than
B) Somewhat more than
C) The same as
D) Somewhat less than
E) Much less than

3) The amount of studying I did for this class was                                 in my other classes.

A) much more than
B) Somewhat more than
C) The same as
D) Somewhat less than
E) Much less than

4) I received                                    instruction and comments on my written work.

A) much more than enough
B) Somewhat more than enough
C) Just enough
D) Somewhat less than enough
E) Much less than enough

5) In this class, I learned                                         in my other classes.

A) much more than
B) Somewhat more than
C) The same as
D) Somewhat less than
E) Much less than

When it comes to homework, students almost always say I give too much. The majority (68%) gave me an A or B.

I only require about an hour of extra-class work a week. I don’t think that’s too bad. However, many teachers give less or none. I go back and forth on the value of homework, myself, but I know that once my students get to 9th grade, they’ll have a tremendous load of it. I figure if I don’t prepare them for that, I’m doing them a disservice. So an avalanche of (one hour a week) homework it remains.

Likewise, kids often say I give a lot of reading. A language arts class should give a substantial amount of reading. So I’m glad most kids (69%) give me an A or B. I require my students to read one self-selected book a month. I don’t think that’s too burdensome. If the book is too tough or boring – hey! You picked it! Pick another one. I also provide them with 15 minutes per day to read in class.

Studying is not something I emphasize. But students are almost evenly divided whether I require too much, just enough or too little. I’m not big on having kids memorize something and then regurgitate that on a test. I’d rather spend time getting them to take good notes that they can use on the test. I’m a big fan of open notes or open book tests. But I hardly ever use the word “Test.” I give frequent short quizzes. I think tests (and even quizzes) are limited evaluation tools. I’d much rather assign a multi-day project. That tells me much more than a brief snapshot of what students were thinking at any one given point in time.

I do assign a lot of essays so I’m always anxious to know if I’ve given enough written feedback. The research seems to show that if you mark every error on an essay, you get diminishing returns. You discourage students. So instead I try to focus on a few trouble areas we’ve already discussed per essay. And students seem to appreciate it. Most of my kids (85%) gave me an A or B or C in this area.

Then comes the cumulative question. How much did you learn? I used to have my classes assign me a letter grade A-E. However, answers were all over the place. When I compared the results with surveys from students who had revealed their identities, I found that kids usually gave me the same grade they received in my class. A-students gave me As. C-students gave me Cs, and so on.

When I changed the question to “how much have you learned?” the results changed drastically. Most students (84%) gave me an A or B. Yes, that’s the result I’m aiming for, but I think it’s a more honest answer, too. It doesn’t focus on grades. It focuses on each child’s assessment of his or her own progress. That’s really what I want to know.

But this side of the survey still provides very limited answers. It is multiple choice, after all. It’s useful for a brief overview but not very deep.

The second side of my questionnaire only has two open-ended queries. Students can write as much or as little as they want to the following questions:

6) What did your teacher do especially well this year to help you succeed?

7) In what areas can your teacher improve his/her instruction?

To be honest, when looking at the surveys, I usually skip right to these questions. This is what I want to see – not a bunch of alphabet soup. I want to know what they really think.

What have I done well? Here are some answers from this year’s kids:

-He understood the learning abilities of certain students and helped them to the best of his ability.


-You made it hard so that we would have to work for the grade.


-Before we could ask him for help, he asked us if we needed help. He’d help everyone, even the person who didn’t ask for it.


-He was really good at explaining and pushed me to never give up. Therefore, Mr. Singer is one of my favorite teachers.


-Well, I didn’t like as much work as he was giving us, but then I understood he was trying to help us with our grades and trying to make our grades higher.


-Always explained stuff good in class. He was always giving good instructions.


-He helped me as much as I needed and made things easier to prepare for high school.


-He helped me understand the concept of simile and metaphor (which I understand now)

-What my teacher especially helped me do to succeed is writing essays.


I was just floored by these responses. Talk about data I can use! But there was one answer that stood out above even these:

-He helped me learn what I needed to do and he helped me by being a mockingbird because I think he tried his best to teach me what I needed to be taught.


No, she wasn’t literally calling me a bird. She was relating me to our last novel – To Kill a Mockingbird. In the text, some characters are innocent victims. They try to help others but come under fire because of it. The author, Harper Lee, symbolizes them as “mockingbirds.” These include: Tom Robinson, the black man wrongly accused of rape; Atticus Finch, the lawyer standing up for a fair trial despite social criticism; Arthur “Boo” Radely, the recluse who saved lives at the expense of his privacy.

And here my sweet little student was including ME in this venerable list!

That choked me up a bit I can tell you.

When it comes to areas for improvement, my students aren’t the most forthcoming. Answers include:

-I don’t think he needs to because he already does his best to teach us kids what we need to be taught and his instruction is easy to understand.

-None. He was the best teacher! :)


I appreciate the approbation but I wouldn’t mind constructive criticism. I do get complaints about the amount of homework and writing I assign. I also get requests for more free time.

I think if I wasn’t in the room when students took the survey, I might get more criticism. Ideally, I would leave the room for the last 15 minutes of the class, and kids could fill out their surveys. However, this is impractical. I don’t see how I could arrange it given the current climate, lack of subs and skeleton crew staff.
These surveys have given me much to think about over the summer. Maybe I should try to include more group work in next year’s class. Maybe I should revisit the homework situation.

But as June turns to July and then August, I know I’ll be thinking about all that happened this school year.
Some kids came in and out of shelters and juvenile detention. Some were present at a shooting at the local mall. Parents and I had to fight administration over valuing standardized test scores over classroom grades for student placement. The School board enacted a pointless student uniform policy. Students were demoralized and angry over national racial tensions involving Michael Brown, Eric Garner and the Baltimore uprising. Teachers had an active shooter drill for the first time as part of our professional development.

But most of all I’ll think about my students – well, no longer mine – off to the high school and bigger, better things.

For a brief moment I was an important part of their lives and they were an important part of mine. I’ll forget their names. (It’s like my mind is making space for the new ones I’ll have to learn.) But I’ll never forget their struggles and triumphs.

It’s easy to lose sight with all the privatizers and standardizers trying to dismantle our public schools. But even with all the political nonsense, selfishness and small-mindedness, teaching is the best job in the world.

Yes, it really is!

Every day I get a chance to positively impact dozens of lives!

I am truly blessed.

That’s what these surveys tell me.

And that’s why they’re the only evaluation that really matters.

NOTE: Here is a copy of the survey I use in class.
Student Survey