Saturday, January 28, 2017

BATs Meet with Sen. Sanders and Sen. Hassan Education Advisors - The Summary!

Last week a team from The Badass Teachers Association met with the education advisors to Sen. Sanders and Sen. Hassan (both serve on the HELP committee).  Here is a summary of what was spoken about at both meetings and the ASK from BATs.

For both meetings basic introductions occurred.  Representing Sen. Hassan was Brittany Weaver and representing  Sen. Sanders was Michael DiNapoli and Jenna Sablan.

We already know that these representatives have viewpoints about education that are mostly in line with those of BATs. But it became evident during the election that legislators still need a deeper understanding of the attacks that public education are currently under. As an organization representing  grassroots voices BATs felt the need to meet face to face and develop a connection for moving forward.  Executive Director of BATs Marla Kilfoyle stated strongly at the beginning of both meetings that we would like both Senators to lead the charge against the use of the “failing schools” rhetoric.  We made it clear, and stealing a line from Jitu Brown (national director of Journey for Justice Alliance), that WE HAVE BEEN FAILED.  

Summary of meeting with Sen. Hassan’s and Sen. Sanders’ Staffers

BAT Co-Director of Special Education Terry Kalb discussed IDEA focusing on the fact that the USDOE has been redefining the Federal law and in essence undermining it by standardizing education.  Terry discussed the impact at the local level and the push to standardize under guise of “Civil Rights”and equality.  Terry hammered home that rather than look at equity as the focus we are looking at equality of outcomes, measuring achievement without a leveled playing field.  Terry again exposed that on the NYS state tests for 3-8th grades, which were tied to RTTT funding, 95% of children with IEPs failed! Terry pointed out that the cut scores are manipulated and the exams are not appropriate and deeply flawed. She also pointed out that in some NY schools, children with special needs were made to personally refuse the assessments, even after  parents sent in a refusal letter.  Terry further explained that teachers are often not allowed to write appropriate IEP goals but instead have to standardize them to grade level expectations.   She pointed out that many parents, when using a voucher or attempting to enroll their child in a charter, have been told they must waive their Federal IDEA right to a free and appropriate education and the required IEP and services.  It was also discussed that in many places, young students with disabilities (pre-K) are being declassified for Kindergarten, leading to the inappropriate suspension of children with disabilities who no longer have needed supports in place.  There seems to be a dangerous misconception that children with special needs can magically be cured in a year of early intervention! Finally, Terry pointed out that we are losing veteran special education teachers due to rating teachers on inappropriate test scores, and teacher training schools are experiencing a big drop in enrollment for special education majors.

Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. Executive Director of BATs,  spoke about ESSA.  Melissa pointed out that ESSA allowed states to develop their own accountability measures and that states should push harder to make sure that assessments do not drive education in the state.  ESSA also claimed in page after page of the law that the Secretary of Education could NOT mandate or incentivize any program.  Melissa continued to point out that additional grants under Title 1 funds for state assessments were eight times more than what is allocated for direct help for disadvantaged students and  children at risk or in need.  Melissa spoke about social impact bonds and concerns we have for that.  Melissa continued to point out that there is already movement on the creation of voucher bills and once again raised concerns about lack of accountability for charters.  
Dr. Denisha Jones, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education and a member of the Board of Directors for BATs,  spoke about privatization and DeVos.  She framed her remarks on privatization by taking a national view that applies to the institution of education as a whole.  Dr. Jones eloquently pointed out that privatization threatens the ability for schools to serve as the “Great Equalizer” and provide all children regardless of the circumstances of their birth, an opportunity to learn and succeed.   She strongly stated that privatization creates winners and losers - we should not have losers when it comes to educating our children.  Dr. Jones exposed the illusion of choice in that charters/vouchers create a system where the school chooses the child, not the other way around.  She told the staffers in both meetings that what parents really want are strong neighborhood schools.  There was a connection made that many Democrats are concerned about privatization of many public services such as health care, prisons, and water, but they do not seem to oppose attempts to privatize education or recognize the dangers that privatization poses to public education.  Dr. Jones explained that equity should be the driving force of all that we do in education and is needs based.  However, she noted that the language of equity has been co-opted by privatizers to mean choice, charters, and vouchers. True equity does not involve neoliberal schemes to ensure a few get ahead at the expense of others.  Dr. Jones asked that Democrats return to their roots and work to improve public education for all.

Sue Goncarovs, Co-Director of BATs Meme Team, introduced the ASK.  The ASK that BATs presented in both meetings is that there be a legislative hearing on public education, centered around listening to professionals with experience and expertise in public education, and NOT INVITING those who have assisted in the corporate education reform disaster we have observed over the last decade.  Sue eloquently pointed out the detriment of Right to Work Laws, the ALEC agenda, and the neo-liberal agenda, that all paved the way for the current administration to finish off public education.
Dr. Michael Flanagan, Co-Director of BATs Action Team, made a closing statement about the power of  the BATs network and resources to help redirect the narrative about public education and what it does for our society.  

NY BAT, Luz Christina Ramirez Mooney shared her experiences as  an active member within the school district that she currently teaches.  She shared that she is extremely involved, and invested. in the school district that her two children are enrolled in. Luz Christina shared that she has  two children on the autistic spectrum and was horrified, four years ago, when her children came face to face with an abusive "sit and stare" testing policy that was implemented in the district her children attend.  The pressure from the federal and state governments to test every child was the driving force behind this practice. Her community came together, and elected school board members whose main, and primary objective,  is the needs of our most precious resource, our children. Luz Christina shared that today the school district no longer supports practices which abuse students.  Her community's experience is one example of the importance and power of elected school boards and how every community should have that fully intact as a sound example of democracy at work.

VA BAT Admin and BAT Blogger Cheryl Binkley ended each meeting with the strong statement that Democrats have a golden moment to take up two powerful causes to bring back their base and to begin to move to a more progressive platform - public education and the environment.  Democrats need to abandon the corporate reform movement and come back to their base, which favors strong civic institutions (like public schools) rooted in the democratic process.  

BATs Executive Director Marla Kilfoyle will be following up with both offices to try and secure a legislative hearing on public education, and continue discussions on how we change the narrative used by politicians about public education.   Here is a copy of our White House Conference on Education paper if you would like to share it.


  1. Thank you all for your intelligent, thoughtful activism on the behalf of students, teachers, administrators & public schools.

  2. "Sit and Stare" testing policy is abusive and we need to keep getting the message out that these policies must be changed or we will change the people behind them!! Thank you BATS! Keep on Pushing.