Tuesday, May 31, 2016

911! The Fight to Save Responsive Teaching
By:  Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director BATs

Most teachers in this country are required to take Professional Development Courses (aka PDP) as part of their continued requirements for employment.  The amount of hours that teachers have an obligation to take depends on the state.   I teach in New York State and as a tenured teacher, I am required to do 10 hours (or usually five classes) of professional development a year.  My district offers a wide array of classes; history classes, technology classes, methods and pedagogy classes, and classes that sell the current fad in education.  On 5/11 I took a PDP course called “Differentiated Instruction.”  The instructor was a retired teacher who traveled around the state teaching this course to various districts.  The sad reality is that the word “differentiated instruction” has been co-opted by corporate education reformers to mean, “stick a student in front of  a computer all day long and let the teacher act as the facilitator.”  

I began to think about the definition of differentiated instruction.  Differentiated instruction, once upon a time, meant responsive teaching.  What is responsive teaching?  It is responding to the children in your room.  Responsive teaching is about designing lessons that meet your student's needs, that inspire them, assist them in finding a passion, and takes them to the place they want to go.  Responsive teaching is about a trained educator assessing (and not in a paper/pen or computer way) the passion, motivation, and joy that children will find in learning.  It is about researching all that children are, and want to be.

I realized as the course meandered through the end of my long day, corporate education reform is attempting to kill responsive teaching.  

High Stakes Testing, value added measures, and the threat of school closures have produced a culture of fear in our schools.  For children High Stakes tests and over testing adds to the stress of their school day, for teachers Value Added makes them fearful of job loss due to factors they cannot control, and school closures put whole communities at a fear level very few understand.    

Teachers and public schools are slowly losing their ability to teach responsively.  Responsive teaching has been replaced by test prep to keep jobs; responsive teaching has been replaced by a prescriptive Common Core, responsive teaching has been destroyed by budget cuts and burgeoning class sizes, and responsive teaching has been replaced by a high stakes environment.  In 2014 BATs and AFT Research teamed up to do a survey of teachers and found that teachers wanted to be treated with respect and be respected enough to make decisions for the children in their care. They wanted less intrusion into the pedagogical/classroom decisions by lawmakers.  Instead of closing and turning around schools they wanted more funding and removal of humiliation as a form of control.   In essence, teachers were telling the nation - “let us teach responsively!”  http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/worklifesurveyresults2015.pdf   

 For children, the move to destroy responsive teaching has been the most  detrimental.  If they don’t pass one test, it can keep them from graduating, or moving onto the next grade. For our most vulnerable children passing one test to graduate or move to the next grade,  is tantamount to running up a hill in mud.  Children have lost the things they love about school; science, art, recess, gym, the arts, and vocational classes which have been pushed out by test prep courses and intervention classes to get them to pass the test.  Entire schools have lost their ability to do any responsive education.  How can you operate a school that seeks to motivate children with course offerings they hate or are forced to take? 

 The other issue that is most detrimental to children is the very real threat of school closure. For children who live in areas threatened with school closure the fear is palpable.  They do not want to lose their neighborhood anchor or the teachers they love.  They KNOW that if they do poorly on a test, it could mean the loss of their school and their teacher.  Parents are also feeling the pressure.  In 2015 16 parents and education activists had to go on a 30-day hunger strike to keep Dyett High School open in Chicago, or parents are forced to occupy their schools in protest so that they are not closed.  How is closing a school responsive to the community it serves?  In fact, it is the polar opposite of responsive education.  A recently released Gallup poll found that teachers who took the survey stated exams were fair to poor, and most families across income lines didn't think that tests improved learning. https://www.nwea.org/content/uploads/2016/05/Make_Assessment_Work_for_All_Students_2016.pdf 

The one thing we have learned after ten years of NCLB and RTTT is that the move away from responsive teaching is not working.  https://dianeravitch.net/2015/10/28/naep-scores-released-today-showing-the-fiasco-of-nclb-and-race-to-the-top/

Time to try something new - time to bring back responsive teaching! 

You can follow Marla on Twitter at @marla_kilfoyle

Saturday, May 28, 2016

How is this Shift Ok?
By:  Becca Ritchie, Chair NEA BAT Caucus

I have been doing some thinking. I know May is always a long month. When I look back on things that we used to do in our building, the changes do pain my heart..
1. Our 8th graders did a culture project, All of the tri fold boards were displayed in the gym for two days as SS classes came through and looked at them.
2. Field trips to the zoo, to museums, to other venues that expanded the student's horizons
3. Bike club ride to Vashon Island
4. Hiking club trip to Mt. Rainier
5. Band's garage sale out of the cafeteria
6. 5th graders visit to Nelsen to see a band orchestra and choir concert
7. Day of community service-6th graders did clean up on site, 7th and 8th graders went to various community places to work--stream clean ups, clothing and food banks, painting over graffiti...etc.
8. The entire school read the same book and then the drama department put on the play.
9. Spelling Bee
10. Knowledge Bowl
11. Math club competition
12. Mock Court with real judge presiding
So many other things i can't remember...but we didn't test until a week before school was out...and then it was the ITBS test...it took maybe two days...and we were done.
Flash forward to now...we spent the entire month of May in a modified schedule. Students spent at least 13 hours of testing for the SBA...to be followed by End of Course tests, STAR tests for math and SRI tests for reading.
What are we doing to an entire generation of children? What are we doing to educators who on a daily basis someone in their hall is in tears. Whether is it dealing with trauma impacted children or teachers who are in distress (it is not stress...but distress) how is this shift OK?
Here is an idea...
For every hour of required testing either by the state, district or building, the body requiring the test should provide for equal hours of field trips!! Now that is a concept!!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Arrogant Ignorance of Campbell Brown: Education Journalism in Decline

By:  Steven Singer, Director BATs Research and Blogging
Originally published on his blog https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/the-arrogant-ignorance-of-campbell-brown-education-journalism-in-decline/

Though her latest “fact” about public schools has once again been shown to be more truthiness than truth, she refuses to retract it.

During an interview published in Slate where she gave advice to the next president, she said:

“Two out of three eighth graders in this country cannot read or do math at grade level. We are not preparing our kids for what the future holds.”

It’s a scary statistic. The problem is it’s completely unsupported by evidence.

And when education experts called her out on it, she complained that SHE was being attacked.

When pressed, Brown admitted she got this figure from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) a test given to random samples of students in fourth and eighth grades every two years.

However, Brown either misunderstands or misinterprets the scores. If one were to interpret the data in the way Brown suggests, the highest scoring countries in the world would be full of children who can’t read at grade level. Hardly anyone in the world would be literate or could add and subtract. It’s beyond absurd.

And when she was notified of her error by authorities in the field including Carol BurrisTom Loveless and Diane Ravitch – who, by the way, served on the NAEP Governing Board for seven years – Brown responded by likening her critics to Donald Trump.

She wrote:

“That the people who disagree with my characterization would react by attacking me personally… speaks volumes. Those feigning outrage over the difference between “grade level” and “grade level proficiency” are the people who profit off the system’s failure and feel compelled to defend it at all costs. Sadly, in the age of Donald Trump and Diane Ravitch, this is what constitutes discourse.”

I especially like the bit where she attacks experts, teachers, and PhDs because they “profit off the system’s failure.” It’s pretty rich stuff coming from Brown who makes a pretty penny retelling the fairytale of “failing public schools.”

Once upon a time, Brown was a respected reported for NBC and anchorperson for CNN.

Now she’s a paid Internet troll.

I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true.

She co-founded and edits a Website called The Seventy Four – a reference to the 74 million children across the country who are 18 or younger.

It might be more honest to call it The Four, instead, for the $4 million she receives annually from the mega-rich backers of school privatization to bankroll the endeavor.

She claims her site is “nonpartisan.” Funny. I guess that explains why she continually backs every cause and campaign championed by her donors.

Change all public schools to private charter schools? Check.

Block teachers unions from collectively bargaining? Check.

When called out on her biasshe proudly proclaimed, “I have learned that not every story has two sides… Is The Seventy Four journalism or advocacy? For 74 million reasons, we are both.”

Pithy. Yet it remains unclear exactly how the nation’s school children will benefit from Bill Gates and the Walton Family having an even larger say in education policy.

Brown has sold her image and rep as a journalist so it can be used to purposefully mislead the public into thinking she is still dedicated to those endeavors. She’s not. What she’s offering these days is not News. It’s bought-and-paid-for public relations meant to destroy our nation’s public schools.

If anyone thought Brown retained even a shred of journalistic integrity left, she should have removed it when she called herself, “a soldier in Eva’s army.” This is a reference to Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of a New York City charter school chain – Success Academy – where children are put under such pressure they wet themselves during testing and kids in first grade are shamed and berated for math mistakes.

As a public school teacher, myself, this makes me sad.

John Merrow, one of the elder statesmen of education journalism, recentlyproclaimed that we live in the “golden age of education reporting.”

I must respectfully disagree.

Yes, there is more being written about education policy and public schools than ever before.

But most of it is just paid advertisements from the standardization and privatization industry.

Look who’s funding these stories.

TV Networks such as NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo have broadcast various education segments on “Nightly News” and “Today” underwritten by Bill Gates and Eli Broad.

The Education Writers Association – which boasts more than 3,00 members –receives money from Gates and Walton. The L.A. Times receives funds from Broad for its Education Matters Digital initiative.

On-line publications also have been infiltrated. The Education Post took $12 million in start-up funds provided by Broad, Bloomberg and the Waltons. The site focuses on “K-12 academic standards, high-quality charter schools and how best to hold teachers and schools accountable for educating students,” according to theWashington Post.

Even well-respected education blogs including Chalkbeat and Education Week are funded in part by the Waltons (in the latter case, specifically for “coverage of school choice and [so-called] parent-empowerment issues.”) Education Week even tweets out paid advertisements for Teach for America as if they were news stories!

We’ve all seen “Waiting for Superman,” the infamous union bashing, charter loving propaganda film packaged as a documentary. Its popularity was helped with outreach and engagement funds by the Waltons and a host of other privatizers. It’s far from the only effort by market-driven billionaires to infiltrate popular culture with corporate education reform. They tried to sell the parent trigger law with “Won’t Back Down,” but no one was buying. Efforts continue in Marvel Studios television shows.

plethora of teachers, academics and other grassroots bloggers have taken to the Internet to correct the record. But they are often ignored or drowned out by the white noise of the same corporate education reform narratives being told again-and-again without any firm footing in reality. In fact, after blogger and former teacherAnthony Cody won first prize from the Education Writers Association in 2014 for his criticism of Gates, the organization banned bloggers from subsequent consideration.

We bloggers are almost completely unpaid. We do it because we care about our profession. Meanwhile the so-called “news” sources are funded by corporate special interests, yet it is bloggers that are looked at as if they were somehow reprehensibly compromised and biased.

Education journalism is not going through a golden age. It’s a sham, a farce.

When we allow our news to be funded by private interests, we lose all objectivity. The stories are spun to meet the demands of the big foundations, the billionaires bankrolling them. And the real experts in the field are either not consulted or left to quixotically do whatever they can on their own time.

Education journalism isn’t about what’s best for children. It’s about how best to monetize the system to wring as many taxpayer dollars out of our schools as possible for corporate interests.

It goes something like this: reduce the quality to reduce the cost and swallow the savings as profit. But it’s sold to the public in propaganda that we call journalism.

As famed cartoonist and counter-culture figure Robert Crumb wrote in 2015:

“You don’t have journalists [in America] anymore. What they have is public relations people. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.”

Nowhere is this as obvious as with Brown.

Just as Broad was initiating a plan in February to double the number of charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Brown’s site, the Seventy Four,was given control of the LA School Report, an on-line news site focusing on thesecond largest district in the country. Brown was expected to run interference for the takeover. She was running the propaganda arm of the privatization push.

And that’s really what’s happening with our education journalism.

I’m not saying there aren’t actual journalists out there trying to tell unbiased stories. But they are few and far between. They are beset by corporate interests. And anyone who wants to tell the truth is silenced or marginalized.

As we’ve seen, when you actually try to point out errors like Brown’s ridiculous assertions about eighth grade students, the media treats it as a he-said-she-said.

They say, “Wow! Teachers really hate Brown.” Shrug.

Meanwhile the truth is left murdered on the floor as our schools are pillaged and sacked.

White Teacher: We Need More Teachers of Color in Public Schools


Black students relate to black teachers.

White students relate to white teachers.

It’s just human nature. We identify most with people like us.

It doesn’t mean kids can only be taught by teachers of their own race. That’s silly.

But it’s just as ridiculous to pretend like this doesn’t matter at all.

Fact: Roughly 48% of our nation’s public school children are children of color.

Fact: Only 18% of our nation’s teachers are persons of color.

We’re missing a tremendous opportunity!

I am a white teacher with classes made up mostly of African Americans. The suburban Western Pennsylvania district where I teach has a smattering of Hispanics, Asians and other nationalities, but most of the students are white, black or multiracial.

I love all of my kids and try to relate to them. But I’d be fooling myself if I thought my culture and complexion didn’t sometimes stand between us.

When I walk down the halls of my school, I see the African American principal fist bumping kids and talking to them in ways I never could.

It doesn’t mean he’s a better educator then I am. It just means he’s different.

When I give a fist bump, it’s funny. We he does, it’s authentic. It’s not that I haven’t tried to bridge the divide. Kids understand and appreciate the effort. But there is a divide.

For example, I saw him collar a black student the other day and ask about the child’s misbehavior in class.
“What’s up with Mrs. Johnson’s class?” he asked.

And the student looked down at the ground embarrassed that he had let the principal down. He’d let down a strong black man in a bow tie and ascot cap, someone from his own community, someone who might look like his dad, grandpap or uncle.

They have a relationship, a connection that – as a white teacher – I’ll never have. Sometimes black kids want to impress me, too, but as you’d impress an outsider, as you’d make inroads into a world outside your comfort zone.

That doesn’t threaten me.

In fact, it makes me feel good. They have the option to seek role models both within and without their usual frame of reference.

Black children in our district have a role model in our principal. These kids see him as a possibility. Yes, black people can be authority figures. Yes, our school is the kind of place that includes African Americans in the way it functions. And, yes, blackness is a part of the school community and not something apart from it.

Moreover, I can serve as a positive example of a white authority figure. In the very act of trying to understand my students and attempting to be a fair educator, I’m demonstrating one way in which different people can relate with each other. And I offer them a safe opportunity to relate to someone with a host of different experiences and backgrounds.

That’s the benefit of having racially diverse teachers in any school. It isn’t just good for the black kids. It’s good for all of them – even the white children.

One of the biggest obstacles to racial harmony is segregation. So often we don’t know each other personally. All we know is second hand. Many white people get their knowledge about black folks from the police blotter, rap lyrics, and racially tinged anecdotes.

If that’s all white folks know about black people, it’s no wonder our conceptions of them can be skewed. Even the brief personal interactions we have can become somehow emblematic of our prejudicesTHAT black person was loudly singing on the subway so all black people must be annoying. THAT black person hit me with her shopping cart, therefore all black people are absentminded or mean.

But if we get to know all kinds of different people as children in school, we become less prone to this kind of prejudice. We get to see people for who they really are instead of as mere representatives of their entire race. So for students – of any race – to experience black teachers and administrators has tremendous benefits for everyone.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy.

There are roadblocks at every step of the way.

In my district, even with our new black principal, people of color make up less than 10% of the staff. There are no other black teachers in the middle school, two black teachers in the high school and maybe as many in our two elementary schools. Yet about half of our students are African American.

People of color often don’t go into teaching. In fact, there is a nationwide teacher shortage irrespective of race. Constant attacks by lawmakers and media pundits and reductions in benefits and pay have made the profession increasingly unattractive to college students looking for a career.

This is even more so for people of color. Why would individuals from a group that is already marginalized and scapegoated want a job where they can be doubly marginalized and scapegoated?

Even when racially diverse people become teachers, they face more obstacles than the rest of us. The same expectations and prejudices outside the school walls are present in the faculty room, conference center, office and classrooms.

I’ve seen it, myself, multiple times: black teachers getting the worst schedules with the most difficult children and the least time to prepare; black teachers being questioned more frequently about their use of technology, pedagogy and rationale; black teachers snickered about behind closed doors because they aren’t perfect and white staff unwilling to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t think the white folks I’ve observed doing these things are purposefully trying to be racist. But the results are the same. Schools can be as unwelcoming a place for black staff as they can be for black students.

That’s why it’s imperative that we take steps to change.

If we want to improve public schools for all our students – including our students of color – we need to encourage more adults of color to take charge. We need to have incentives at the college level to increase the number of black and brown education majors. (And white ones, too, for that matter.) When positions open up, school directors and administrators need to prioritize filling them with people of color whenever possible. Administrators need to be more cognizant of treating black educators fairly, not assuming they’re only suited to the lowest academic tracks, etc. And white staff needs to be more understanding, less hyper critical of everything black teachers do.

There are a lot of white educators out there who really care about their minority students and colleagues. I’m one of them. But I know there’s more we can do.

We can demand more cultural competence training. If I were asked to teach a class full of Syrian refugees, I’d want extra training. If one of my co-workers only spoke sign language, I’d want help to communicate with her. White teachers need to admit that we could use that, too, when teaching children of color.

That’s one of the drawbacks of having so few black colleagues. Where do we turn for help in understanding our African American students? Who is there to point out potential hazards and help us better meet our minority students’ needs?

But the biggest challenge will be the first one – admitting that we have a problem in the first place.

Admitting that when we look around at all the white faces at the staff meeting and the faculty room, there is something missing.

Admitting that our black and brown students deserve to have teachers who look like them whom they can turn to from time-to-time.

Admitting the absence of our black brothers and sisters – and welcoming them to join us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hey, You Have Been Teaching 3 1/2 Hours, Why Not Open Your Own School? by Dr. Michael Flanagan

Hey, You Have Been Teaching 3 ½ Hours, Why Not Open Up Your Own School? 

By Dr. Michael Flanagan, member of the BAT Leadership Team

The Chancellor of New York City Public Schools, Carmen Farina, and Mayor Bill de Blasio have recently instituted a reform policy of merging small schools that are struggling with other schools in an effort to promote success. The small schools in question are usually located in buildings known as “educational campuses.” These campuses used to be large comprehensive high schools and middle schools, but since 2002 have been sub-divided. For example, Taft High School is now called the William H. Taft Educational Campus. Roosevelt High School is now the Theodore Roosevelt Educational Campus. Each campus houses five or six small schools. The goal of these new mergers is to give “failing” small schools a chance to “turn around” prior to being taken over by the state and handed over to "receiverships". Placing schools into receiverships is the result of Governor Cuomo’s new education law pushed through with our state budget in 2015. Schools labeled as failing had to show fast improvements or be placed into receivership, and most likely be taken over by charter school operators. Before falling into receivership, the schools were awarded turnaround funding ($154 million for 94 schools) and allowed to modify teachers’ working conditions to provide longer days, extra tutoring and other benefits to students. Even with the extra funding many schools were not able to demonstrate enough rapid improvement. So now the Mayor’s new position is that smaller schools lack support services and would benefit from combining together. Not as well-publicized is that many of these small schools will be merging with charter schools. Yes, that sound you heard was the other shoe dropping.

Now, I enjoy when policy makers mandate sweeping changes as much as the next guy; to heck with the impact on children and communities. However, the idea of creating larger schools as a means for improvement just plain cracks me up. I am sure all of the teachers who were excessed or forced into early retirement during the small schools initiative of our previous Mayor, Billionaire reformer Michael Bloomberg, are laughing as well. You see, their careers were destroyed because of this now obviously failed experiment. During Emperor Bloomberg’s 12-year reign (2001 – 2014), one of his earliest education reform tactics was to break up large public schools and create hundreds a “mini-schools”. The political rhetoric used at the time was that large schools were failing and that smaller schools would be more accommodating to a child’s needs. Vilification of teachers unions, blaming veteran teachers for the failures, and eliminating seniority protections were tactics used to justify the dismantling of the larger schools. Teachers who argued that the reason for poor academic performance was the high poverty rate in the communities were not only figuratively, but literally, dismissed. Students just needed to be fed their daily bowl of grit and rigor in a small school setting to succeed.

Bloomberg’s push to shut down large schools fit right into the education reform plans of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s New Visions grant program. New Visions provided $150 million dollars to fund the NYC small schools initiative. It is always fun when a couple of billionaires decide what is best for our children. Gates eventually invested $2 billion in this plan nationwide before abandoning it. The New Vision grants allowed for the purchase of upgraded technology, desks, materials and staff development. With all of that money on the table, the media and the politicians could not wait to swing the proverbial wrecking ball into our most underprivileged and vulnerable school districts.

Every wannabe principal with two or three years experience was writing proposals to secure some of that Gates grant money and open a new school. To obtain the money, these new schools had to have a theme and a cute name, like: New Explorers High School, The Urban Academy for Careers in Sports, The Knowledge and Power Academy International High School, The West Bronx Academy for the Future, etc, etc. If you could fill out an application and submit a proposal, most of the time you got yourself a school. These New Vision proposals did require you to partner with an outside organization. That organization would co-sponsor the new schools, and also share control of the grant money. Honestly, I am not sure if any of these proposals were ever turned down. The new schools also led to a large number of 26 year-old “instaprincipals” popping up out of nowhere. Few had even taught for more than two years.

Once the proposals for the new schools were accepted, the yard sale was on! Existing schools became wholesale markets where these new principals and outside sponsors could cherry-pick the incoming students to fill their rosters. They were not mandated to accept students with special needs in the same proportion as the existing schools. In order to close down the larger schools, the Department of Education would first conduct a dog and pony show to pretend they were investigating whether or not the school was failing and needed to be closed. We, the staff in the targeted school would fall all over ourselves to show our best work, the love and dedication we had for the school, and to discuss the frustrations and disappointment we had with a system that sets up students to fail. Endless cadres of suits would fill our classrooms and observe the hard work we were doing in the most difficult situations. Then they would submit reports that had already been written before they ever set foot in our building.

Next, they would begin to carve up the school like a turkey on Thanksgiving, taking the choicest pieces for themselves. You would be teaching your class and these DOE guys would walk in with blueprints and survey equipment to set up the school du jour. They would take the best classrooms and monopolize the common facilities like cafeterias and gyms. We in the closing schools were left with the closets and the old bathrooms to teach in. The new principals demanded separate entrances, and our students were told to not even walk through the halls where the new schools were located. Rules were put into place so that each school could treat their students as special, compared to the closeout school’s students. Meanwhile, the small schools had little discipline and their students basically had carte blanche to run the building. See, 26 year old principals might be chock full of energy and enthusiasm, but they don’t know a damn thing about earning the respect of students and maintaining discipline. That is a fact.

In order to disregard the UFT contract, the “blame the teacher” rhetoric was ratcheted up. The edict was that when the large schools were being phased out, 50% of the existing staff had to leave. This is where the anti-union narrative came into play. To destroy these schools they would have to grease some pockets and change a few rules. Inevitably, the teachers removed were the most experienced teachers who had the highest salaries. When Bloomberg assumed mayoral control of the schools, one strategy used was to give principals autonomy of their school budgets. Before mayoral control school budgets were de-centralized, if a school needed a new teacher, one was assigned by the Board of Education. Now, principals were looking for the cheapest human capital. The only problem was the pesky collective bargaining agreements that protected teachers’ rights. So, those contracted rights had to be violated. Experienced educators with many years of service were too expensive. They also knew their rights. Those teachers were either excessed, forced into something called the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, or retired. This end run around of seniority protections was then ratified into our UFT contract when teachers were thrown a bone of a raise after years of wage freezes.

ATR teachers became second-class citizens with fewer rights and protections than other teachers. Of course, in order to destroy the public schools, a corrupt bargain had to be made with union leadership to give away our hard fought rights, and so it was. Countless teachers were pushed out of their careers, only to be replaced by the six-week Teach For America warriors who took a crash course in teaching theory and came in to “save the schools.” Then fled in droves.

…Or became 26 year-old principals.

The experience of senior teachers was not respected. The propaganda taught to TFA recruits was that older teachers were the reason the schools were failing. The recruits arrived in these new schools with an unmatched level of arrogance and ignorance. I will admit that it was satisfying watching these TFA’ers get eaten alive when they tried to teach their classes without the benefit of discipline and experience. Except for the damage being done to the children in the classrooms, of course, it was actually kind of enjoyable watching them cry and quit in en masse.

Gates abandoned the small school movement to focus on Common Core and high stakes testing as his next attempt to privatize schools. But this was not before an entire generation of students was damaged, and the careers and reputations of countless teachers and staff were destroyed. Creating smaller schools with new names and fancy desks doesn’t solve the main problem, poverty. These smaller schools “failed” with the same frequency as the larger schools did. Except now our already-limited school budgets are being siphoned off by management companies, tech suppliers, and outside vendors. These vulture philanthropists take the money and run leaving the discarded carcasses of the community schools that had been the foundation of our neighborhoods. It was like the slaughter of the bison on the Great Plains in order to starve out the native peoples and steal their lands. They left our schools rotting and bloated on the streets of the city, while they counted their money and worked towards the new methods of public school genocide; charter schools, vouchers, Common Core, anti-tenure lawsuits, etc. etc.

So, yeah, when I see these brand new administrators come in to scout out locations for school mergers I am, what you might call, suspect. As teachers they were just crying in their classrooms like yesterday. By reformer logic they must be qualified to be an administrator. “Hey, you have been teaching 3 ½ hours, why not open up your own school”? What could go wrong? The more things change, the more things remain the same.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Great Reading Must Be Felt, Not Standardized

By:  Steven Singer, Director BATs Blogging and Research
Originally published on his blog here https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/21/great-reading-must-be-felt-not-standardized/
I made my classes cry today.
That sounds terrible, but if I’m honest, I knew it would happen and meant to do it.
I teach in an urban district and most of my 8th grade students are African American and/or impoverished. We’re reading Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” together, and the kids were loving it.
Until today when we got to the verdict in the Tom Robinson trial.
Jaquan closed his book with wide eyes.
“What the heck happened?” he asked.
Other students in the room murmured their agreement.
“They found him guilty!? What the F!?”
“I hate this book.”
“This is so freakin’ racist.”
I let them go on for a moment.
Frankly, it was the reaction I had been expecting.
It happens every year around this time.
Until this moment, my kids were really into the book. They were enjoying the case and excited by how well the defense attorney, Atticus Finch, had proven that Tom, a black man in the 1930s South, is innocent of raping a white woman.
But even last night I knew what was coming. The next day – today – I’d have to go and break their hearts when they read what the jury actually decides. Some of them were bound to be crushed. And today they were.
For those who haven’t cracked this book open in decades, let me recap.
There is no physical evidence that the crime actually took place. Moreover, because of a crippling injury as a child, Tom is physically incapable of perpetrating the crime in the first place.
In a world where black males could be tortured and killed just for whistling at a white woman – like Emmett Till – it’s clear that Tom is the victim, not the aggressor.
It seems like a slam dunk case. Yet the all-white jury finds Tom guilty, and ultimately he is shot 17 times in prison after losing all hope and trying to escape.
It’s no wonder that when we read that cascade of Guilty’s from the jury’s mouths today, my kids couldn’t believe it.
Some of my best students closed the book or threw it away from them.
So I let them express their frustrations. Some talked about how the story hit too close to home. They have family members in jail or who have been killed in the streets by police. One girl even told us that she’s never met her own mother. The woman has been locked away since the child was an infant, and because of a missing birth certificate, my student hasn’t even been allowed to visit.
“Mr. Singer, when was this book written?” one of the girls in the back asked.
“The late 1950s,” I said.
“I thought you were going to say it just came out.”
And so we talked about what the book has to do with things happening today. We talked about Eric Garner. We talked about Michael BrownTrayvon MartinSandra BlandTamir Rice and Freddie Gray.
At a certain point, conversation ceased.
My class of rowdy teenagers became quiet. We could hear people stomping in the hall, a movie being shown a few doors down.
There might have been a few tears.
I knew it would happen.
Last night I debated softening the blow, preparing them for what was about to take place. When we read “The Diary of Anne Frank” a month ago, I made sure they’d know from the very beginning that Anne dies. It should have been no surprise to them when Anne and her family are captured by the Nazis. It’s scary and upsetting but not entirely unexpected.
However, with “Mockingbird” I just let events unfold. And I stand by that decision.
It’s frustrating and painful, but my students need to feel that. It’s something I can’t shield them from.
It’s not that they have never felt this way before. Many of them have experienced racism and injustice in their everyday lives. But for this book to really have the desired impact, they need to FEEL what the author meant. And it needs to come from the book, itself.
A book isn’t just sheets of paper bound together with glue and cardboard. It’s a living entity that can bite. That’s the power of literature.
I can’t in good conscience shield them from that. They need to see it and experience it for themselves.
“I prefer to talk about the meaning in a story rather than the theme of a story. People talk about the theme of a story as if the theme were like the string that a sack of chicken feed is tied with. They think that if you can pick out the theme, the way you pick the right thread in the chicken-feed sack, you can rip the story open and feed the chickens. But this is not the way meaning works in fiction.
“When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you experience that meaning more fully.”
This is what our policymakers either misunderstand or forget when they demand we assess understanding with standardized tests.
The meaning of a story is not expressable in discrete statements A, B, C, or D. We wouldn’t read them if it was.
Every person is unique. So is every reaction to literature.
You can’t identify the meaning of this story on a multiple choice test. You can’t express what it means to YOU. All you can do is anticipate the answer the test maker expects. And that’s not reading comprehension. It’s an exercise in sycophantry. It teaches good toadying skills – not good reading strategies.
Perhaps that’s why Common Core encourages us to shy away from complex texts like “Mockingbird.” We’re told to focus on short snippets of fiction and to increase our student’s diet of nonfiction. Moreover, we’re told to stay away from narratives like Anne Frank’s. Instead, we should have our children read from a greater variety of genres including instruction books, spreadsheets, recipes – just the facts – because as Common Core architect David Coleman famously said, “No one gives a shit what you think or feel.”
Frankly, we don’t do a whole lot of that in my class. We still read literature.
Today, even after the blowout, we kept reading “Mockingbird.”
My kids suffered along with Jem and Scout. They reveled in Atticus’s example. They feared where it was all going.
And when class was over, a few of them had come around.
“This is such a good book, Mr. Singer,” one girl told me on the way out.
“Is Atticus going to die?” another asked to which I smiled and shrugged.
Jaquan stayed after the bell to ask his own question.
“Do you think in a hundred years things will be any different?”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean do you think people will still do things like THIS?” he said holding up his book.
I looked at him and swallowed.
“I don’t know, Jaquan,” I said. “But things are better now than they were. We can hope.”
He nodded.
I clapped him on the back and wished him a good weekend.
You don’t get that kind of reaction from Common Core, and you can’t assess it on a standardized test.
They need teachers with the freedom to teach and assess as they see fit.
Otherwise, it is not just Tom Robinson that suffers a miscarriage of justice.
We all do.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

BATs - Stand up for our Undocumented Children

In schools and classrooms around the nation we teach amazing children who live in fear. They are our undocumented children and their families. Like the teachers in North Carolina we must join the fight to be the voices for the voiceless and demand that our undocumented children and their families be treated with respect and honor NOT like criminals. http://prospect.org/article/north-carolina-educators-fight-deportations-central-american-students-1
Many are brought here by extended family at a young age. Listen to award winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmz9cCF0KNE
Time to raise our teacher voices! Here is how you can support undocumented youth and their families - please read this carefully for information and tips on how you can support our children. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8TC8l2jpdQ3MzdncWdZQURJRTQ/view
Take to twitter this week - here are tweets for each day that we fight for our children and their families who remain afraid and voiceless https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RIoq32ChyCx6p2hcld8oKT2Su1ivkwg_aYltFqcD3WQ/edit?usp=sharing

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Another Brick From The Wall. When Reformers Fail by Dr. Michael Flanagan

Another Brick From the Wall: When Education Reformers Fail
By Dr. Michael Flanagan, Co-Director BATs Action Team 

I will be honest; I really enjoy stories where corrupt and greedy education reformers just epically fail. Now granted for the past ten years or so reformers have been cashing in big time on the backs of school children and their teachers. Continually racking up public tax dollars in one way or another. Money for charter schools. Money for Teach For America. Money for Pearson etc. etc.

These reformers have been successfully embezzling public school funding, attacking teacher rights, and disregarding collective bargaining agreements all while generating huge profits for test companies and vulture capitalists. As this has been happening countless numbers of parents, teachers, activists and students have organized to push back against the billionaires and their political shills through grassroots efforts, often to no avail. Our protests are met by reformer stonewalling.

The seemingly insurmountable money and power behind these education reformers brings to mind Pink Floyd’s: The Wall. Teachers and parents have faced the brick wall of Common Core, vouchers, charter schools, anti union lawsuits and high stakes testing from the likes of the Fordham Institute, the Broad Foundation, The Walton’s, the Koch’s, David Welch, Bill Gates, the mainstream media, governors, the Department of Education and the President of the United States.

However, lately I am seeing more “Karma” like stories. There are more articles like; Pearson's stock is dropping, or Pearson’s New York State contract is canceled. Common Core has been voted out in several states and Teach For America is laying off employees. A school board in San Francisco actually voted TFA out. I have especially enjoyed watching charter schools like Success Academy and Gulen Charters facing criticism, while some Ohio charter operators have actually been indicted. I applaud how hundreds of thousands of parents opted out of state tests in New York (myself included) while Friedrichs v. California and Vergara v. California both fail spectacularly. Just this past week Sheri Lederman won her case against value added measures of teacher evaluation. Stories like these create hope that the tide may actually be turning, and we BATs are loving it.

I don’t know about you, but I think more people in the education activist movement should be able to celebrate and even take credit for some of these epic reformer fails. Because every time I read a Humpty Dumpty like story of a terrible Ed reform policy that bit the dust I think the same thing: Another brick from the wall! Each time one of these pirates is shown the door it is one more opening to bring back control of our public schools to the community, not the corporations. Schools for children, not for profit. The voice of the people not crooked politicians.

So it is at this point in our story that we at the Badass Teachers Association are asking those who read this blog, to share some of your favorite Ed Reformer Fails. Every brick that falls out of that corrupted wall is another chance to make public education the people’s again. BATs wants to hear from you! Please write and post or tweet your favorite “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” reformer story to the Badass Teachers Association Facebook Group, twitter @BadassTeachersA or in the comment section of this blog piece. Use the hashtag #‎AnotherBrickFromtheWALL