Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Comment on PBS NewsHour's Opt Out Coverage

William Brangham,

Thank you for covering Opt Out tonight. I'd like to clarify a few things that I truly wish would be made known to the public. First, Opt Out has been around for quite some time. My own personal involvement began over four years ago when I founded United Opt Out National along with five other individuals. United Opt Out National recognized back then that it was necessary to refuse these tests in order to stop the privatization of public schools. No data = no profit.

Now, the stakes have become much higher as there are so many tests tied to various levels of legislation (early childhood legislation, 3rd grade retention legislation, high school graduation, etc.). Opt out has become essential if we are to halt the test and punish system that is permeating every level of public education. Opt Out is essential if we wish to save the cornerstone of our democracy, our public schools. Currently, I watch children in kindergarten get labeled as failures at the age of five; it's hard to believe that our society has become conditioned to accept such punitive measures. We watch third grade students get held back due to one test. We watch charters kick out students who do not test well. Now, the testing is so extreme that we never stop testing. This year I counted three weeks at my elementary school in which my work with children was not interrupted by tests. Only three weeks. From January to May we did nothing but test.

The year was essentially over in Jan. due to the many tests and the exhausting interruptions that made it impossible to create any continuity whatsoever in my district. See here: http://www.pegwithpen.com/2015...  My school has a free/reduced lunch rate of approximately 78% and over 40 languages represented among our students. The children at my school are tested more than children in affluent areas due to language and due to lacking food, healthcare, and literacy rich environments at home. We struggle weekly to provide 180 food bags to our children who do not have enough food to eat over the weekend. When our school year came to a close last week the anxiety among many children was apparent as they saw their routine and their safety net coming to a close for the next two and a half months. And no one can answer my question: Why do we have money for chrome books and high stakes tests, yet we have no money for wrap around services, small class size, counselors, nurses, and more? They just continue to feed our children tests as that is where the profit is highest.

Regarding your question, was this led by teachers? It has very much been led by teachers and parents. Now, we have students leading too. I am a teacher in my 18th year of teaching and it was clear to me four years ago that United Opt Out National, our grassroots group, must have Opt Out guides for every state in order to support parents, students and teachers in reclaiming our public schools. When UOO started, 5 out of 6 of us were teachers. Our Opt Out guides were created by the people for the people. And when things cost money we dug into our own pockets. The unions were no where to be seen until just recently in re: to Opt Out. We now have approximately 80 Opt Out leaders supporting folks across the country as parents and students move forward with refusing the tests. We also help teachers who wish to refuse to administer the tests.

Finally, I do wish that someone would point out the following regarding Opt Out because this is by far the most important point: Opt Out is not an anti-testing movement. It is a movement to reclaim public schools and to demand that our schools receive equitable funding and a whole and developmentally appropriate education for all children. At UOO we state: We serve as a focused point of unyielding resistance to corporate ed. reform. We demand an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system for all Americans that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue. We demand that social policies be put in place to support communities and lift them up so that children are not hungry, tired and sick.

Mainstream media continues to focus on the testing as the issue - it is so much more than that. The test and punish system continues to point to an achievement gap (actually it's a resource gap) that no one wishes to actually do anything about; it's more profitable to continue to use test and punish to privatize our public schools. Quite honestly, all we need is zipcode to know how to support our public schools. The test and punish system keeps the propaganda of "bad teachers" and "failing schools" and "failing students" in place. What really needs to happen is that the test & punish system must be destroyed and legislators must be held responsible for creating policies which protect children from poverty and allow our students to learn and allow our teachers to teach - with support.

Opt Out is not new. Opt out has been around for quite some time and those of us working night and day for free to save public schools are rarely given a voice in mainstream media. Many thanks to you and John Merrow for allowing us to be heard. I hope this clarifies and helps answer some of your questions tonight. Thank you for covering Opt Out.

United Opt Out National has occupied the Dept of Ed. in DC twice which helped spark Opt Out across the East Coast. We then followed up with two years of conferences, one in Denver and one in Fort Lauderdale this year. We helped support the organizing of local activists during our two DC occupations and our two conferences. Chicago activists have always worked closely with UOO. Karen Lewis was one of our speakers at our last occupation of the Dept. of Ed. in DC. All the states you highlighted are states where UOO has worked closely with activists; grassroots organizing at its finest!

I do however wish you would have shown this map: http://unitedoptout.com/uoo-op... . We have had folks entering opt out numbers onto our map as "pins." They can add one child as a pin, a whole school or even a whole district; our goal is to get the numbers as quickly and as easily as possible. We hope to have concrete data when testing is finally over this year. We have some states still testing at this point. What I find fascinating about Opt Out is that it's much more than the "hard data" that the media always wants. Opt Out requires forming relationships with parents in order to create a successful Opt Out for a child. Sometimes I will spend an entire month talking with a parent to see Opt Out reach complete success. And guess what happens next? That same parent helps ten parents opt out in her community. Next, she creates an FB for her school district...and then it spreads like wildfire and we at UOO simply help when needed.

If you look at the posts on our website you can see where folks have reached out and we have responded to assist by posting advice. Currently we are assisting Kentucky where students are facing a sit/stare policy tomorrow morning. We have been tweeting all day to stop this policy. Again, grassroots organizing. Building relationships. And next year - Kentucky will be stronger! Also, next year our conference will be in Philly. Opt Out truly is a movement for the people by the people - that makes us quite dangerous. We have no funding minus the GoFundMe account we set up every year before our conference. And most of our Opt Out leaders work full-time jobs. Opt Out is not going away. We knew this year would be the tipping point and now Opt Out has become a part of family dinner conversation.

Our goal is to bring the test and punish system to its knees so that we may completely decimate a system that does nothing to support our children, our schools and our democracy. And when we destroy it, we expect our demands to be met. For the people by the people. See here: http://www.pegwithpen.com/2015/05/opt-out-is-peoples-movement_9.html

Many thanks again.
Peggy Robertson
www.unitedoptout.com, www.pegwithpen.com

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A response to Derek Briggs and the Denver Post re: Opt Out Propaganda

My comment in response to the Denver Post piece titled: PARCC adviser: opt-out 'propaganda' mischaracterizes comments
I heard about Dr. Briggs' comments via Facebook and I believe that the email he references was forwarded to me as well. But honestly, I didn't read it because I have been too busy answering what I consider to be my priority emails - the emails from parents who are asking for helping refusing the tests which are destroying authentic learning and any chance for a whole and equitable public education for all children.
As a teacher in the public schools today, as well as one of the founders of United Opt Out National, I am privy to what these tests truly do to our public schools, our children, and the teaching profession. I checked out the curriculum vitae of Derek Briggs and it appears he has never taught in a public school. He has also received some hefty grants from Pearson and DPS where corporate reform is loved. I also checked out the video he linked to in the post above. At around 38 minutes you can hear him talk about opt out (in which he states Title 1 schools can lose funding. This is not true. See here: http://unitedoptout.com/optout-refusethetest-without-fear-of-federal-penalty-to-your-school/ ). And I recommend also listening as he shares info on the DLMs (alternative assessment for PARCC) at around 33 minutes. He shares an example of a "testlet." The DLM is composed of multiple small tests that are an incredible waste of time and in no way inform a special education teacher's instruction. DLMs should be refused by all parents as should PARCC.

Having spent the entire year watching children test in lieu of actual learning, I am continually stunned that the Denver Post, Derek Briggs, or anyone for that matter, actually believes that these posts about the values of PARCC will somehow halt the opt out movement and/or cause the public to suddenly embrace PARCC and any other test that is being used to erase learning from our classrooms and drive corporate profit sky high on the backs of children and teachers.
I sat in a meeting on Friday in which teachers were asked to list their greatest successes this year. The clear success we all agreed on at my table was our ability to survive. We have survived by far the absolute most horrific year of testing I have ever seen in my 18 years of teaching. I can count approximately 3 weeks of the year in which my work with students was NOT interrupted by a test.
The first half of our school year was filled with district testing, READ Act testing and MAPS. The PARCC and CMAS (social studies and science) tests consumed the second half of the year. In addition, because I teach in a high poverty school in which approximately 40 languages are represented, we also get to administer ACCESS to many of our students. In addition to that, because we are a high poverty school and many of our children lack literacy rich environments within their homes, we have many children who were placed on READ plans (thanks to the READ Act which will be used to retain children in third grade -regardless of the fact that research on retention clearly shows that not only does retention NOT work, it causes students to drop out of school and fuel the school to prison pipeline). The children on READ Act plans get an additional layer of testing via PALS mandated at a minimum of twice a year. Furthermore, children on IEPs must also have READ plans which means that the kids who must do alternative PARCC testing and/or receive accommodations for PARCC testing also get to be tested via PALS too. Never mind the fact that there is also district testing which must be completed for all students, such as DRA2. Never mind the fact that we also must administer TS Gold (data mining extravaganza) in our kindergarten classrooms. I'm sure I'm forgetting a test but just wanted to make it clear that whatever happened with Derek's comments at the SBE meeting is the least of our worries re: any potential opt out propaganda.
Our current worries right now as teachers are simply keeping our head above water while being told to keep our mouths shut about what's really happening in the public schools. Our current worries right now include figuring out a way to provide wrap around services for our schools while testing proponents continue to push forward tests that once again tell us zip code. Yet, these testing proponents do nothing to actually address these issues of poverty discovered via zip code, because it's more profitable to ignore the true problems within our public schools by continually feeding children tests. In Derek's video he does say something about opt out that is actually worth discussing here. He asks that if we are
opting out, what are we opting into? I'm happy to answer that question.
We opt into a public school system that is equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, and desegregated for all children - a public school system that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision-making with civic virtue. We demand social policies that protect children from poverty and lift communities up so that teachers can focus on teaching and students can focus on learning. We demand an end to a test and punish system that is used to rank, sort and order our schools and label them as failing when in reality they are under-resourced.
I recommend that the Denver Post and the legislators and Derek Briggs turn their attention to figuring out how to help schools such as mine fill 180 food bags every Friday for our children who have no food at home. I recommend examining why there is always money for chrome books and testing, yet we have no funding for a librarian or small class size? I recommend allowing teachers, the actual professionals who teach in the public schools. to be given the autonomy to determine which assessments support their instruction and allow us to actually do the assessing, evaluating, planning and finally - teach. We are so busy giving all these high stakes corporate assessments that we have no time to teach and the majority of the assessments we are required to give do NOT inform our instruction. Heck, we can't even look at PARCC?! And if I did actually look at it I wouldn't be allowed to tell you that it's developmentally inappropriate nor would I be allowed to tell you that it's racially and culturally biased.
Those who love these corporate tests would love to keep the conversation centered on the tests. So, let's quit wasting our time discussing the pros and cons of a test that is simply being used to keep the public from focusing on the real societal issues that plague our public schools. As long as we place our attention on the test and punish system, our legislators will be allowed to continue to point 
their fingers at the public school system. The public schools and the teachers are NOT the problem. (And that little jab about movie days that Derek refers to in his video - seriously, movie days? We are barely allowed to give the children a 15 minute recess let alone a movie day.)
Our society's failure to protect children from poverty and provide equitable funding to our public schools must be the focus. The true problem is that our legislators, mainstream media such as the Denver Post, and PARCC promoters such as Derek Briggs continue to scurry around promoting and tweaking a test and punish system that does nothing to help children and does everything to support corporate profit, and political and career gain for certain individuals. PARCC was never about the kids - that's PARCC propaganda 101. For support with opting out, the grassroots revolution for the people by the people, see our website at www.unitedoptout.com as well as my blog at www.pegwithpen.com. Let's shut down the corporate machine that is being used to destroy our public schools and ultimately, our democracy.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Opt Out is the People's Movement

Mike Petrilli recently stated, "If this [opt-out] thing goes national, the whole education reform movement is in serious trouble.

Indeed it is. (Listen to him state it here in the Fordham Institute podcast at the 6:43 mark.)

The Opt Out Movement is the people's movement and that makes us dangerous.

Petrilli worries about it going national? That's funny.

His arrogance, and the arrogance of corporate ed. reformers everywhere, caused them to fail to pay close attention when opt out went national over four years ago when the people organized and began the hard work of supporting teachers, students, parents and citizens across the country via a little FB group page titled OPT OUT OF THE STATE TEST: The National Movement, which then quickly grew into a website, United Opt Out National, and finally a social movement of individuals across the country working for free, on their own time before work, after work, and on the weekends. The people's movement has spread like wildfire and it is raging forward. There are so many grassroots opt out groups across the country that it is absolutely impossible to count them.

The people's Opt Out Movement is so strong and so fierce now that not only is the "whole education reform movement in serious trouble" - it's going down, and as it goes down, we expect our demands to be met.

At United Opt Out National  we believe in demanding everything for all children.

All of us opting out all over the country have NO funding. This absolutely terrifies them that we can accomplish this with no funding. If we can accomplish this, what else might we be able to do?

Think about that.

What else might we be able to do? Why not get all for all children? We, the people, must harness our power. 

We at UOO refuse to settle for less. We believe in the people. We must not fall for ploys which state that we could only possibly get a little. The state legislatures and the federal ESEA re-authorization only want to give us a little. We can demand it all.

There is a reason that many are attempting to wrestle and gain control of the opt out narrative right now. They wish to control and manage this narrative because it is indeed dangerous to their livelihood.  We have suddenly landed in their backyard just as they landed in ours. There is a reason that organizations and mainstream media refer to the ECS opt out guide (funded by Pearson and Gates) rather than the UOO guides written for the people by the people.

Those trying to co-opt the opt out message all have funding - and this funding means that they have ties to political or corporate ideology. Therefore, they will not demand all for all children because ultimately they need common core and the testing system to thrive in some shape or form in order to save their jobs, their corporations, their status and so that they may continue to push forward their privatization agenda using children, teachers and our communities.

And understand this clearly, the Opt Out Movement is not an anti-testing movement. We all trust our teachers to assess our children - our teachers know how to assess. The corporate ed. reform system of test and punish serves only one purpose - sort, rank, order children and keep them in their place. Teachers do the exact opposite. We determine a child's strengths, attempts and next steps - and we do this using developmentally appropriate practices to make sure all children thrive and love learning. Our goal is to make sure all children are successful and that all children recognize their own strengths and power to make positive change for their lives, our country and our world.

We don't need this test and punish system. We need social policies which protect our children from poverty. We need teachers to be the professionals who are trusted and respected to assess and teach our children. We need our teachers to be able to work together and support one another as professionals. We need our neighborhood schools to be fully funded and resourced so that all children can thrive. We need to reclaim our public schools - reclaim all of it for all people.  The test and punish system denies children everything they deserve. Anyone who supports the test and punish system ultimately does not truly wish to change anything to support all children. They simply want the test and punish system to stay intact so that they may continue to thrive by feeding our children only tests and then - devouring our schools whole.

We have a chance to save the cornerstone of this democracy. Don't settle for less. We don't need less testing, better testing. We don't need to keep ranking and sorting our children only to see the zipcodes once again - this is their game - it is a vicious game that keeps everyone in their place and does NOTHING to solve the problems that plague our society. The public schools are not to blame for society's ills nor can the public schools fix society's ills on their own. We must demand social policies to end childhood poverty and to create equitable funding for our public schools. We know what needs to be done.  Let's do it.

Opt Out is the people's movement. And our work is just beginning. Let the revolution rage forward to levels that bring the test and punish system to its knees in 2015-2016. As we decimate their system, demand everything for all children. No exceptions. All of it.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Eye of the Storm and the Aftermath

Trying to articulate the reality inside a school during the absolute peak of testing season is best described as flying inside the eye of a storm. There is the blur and glimpse of things you recognize and know - a snapshot of an inquiry project in a younger grade where testing is less. A brief moment where I see shoeboxes inside a classroom and I know that they are working on dioramas every second they aren't testing. But, I can't stay to view the process because I am pulling a child for a one on one test - there are always more tests to be given. I am pulled back into the eye of the storm.

There is that repeat conversation I hear in the hallway as children see adults who use to routinely be in their classrooms, such as myself. The conversation goes like this as the child says, "Why aren't you coming to work with us anymore?" The adult replies something like, "I can't anymore, my schedule has changed." Or, "I can't anymore, I have to give this test to children now." When I am asked this question I always follow up with an explanation of how I miss them and how I want to come in but I can't because I am required to give this test. I say that I don't want to give the test.  That is all followed by some anger, guilt, shame and helplessness because I can't change this right now as much as I want to. For many of these children it's just one more abandonment, one more time they've seen a person or society, not show up. And I'm part of it.

But the eye of the storm rages on. I have to leave the child in the hallway and I have to walk to a new class with my box of the "other" tests. I have somehow become the manager of data for READ Act children. READ Act children are children designated as failures under the READ Act crafted by our legislators who know nothing about the reality inside our schools. Once upon a time I was what is termed a "teaching partner" also known as a literacy coach - although I despise that title "coach." But, long story short,  I got to co-teach with teachers, pull small groups and work alongside classrooms to support instruction and help our school achieve our dream of truly becoming an inquiry-based democratic school. I worked one on one with children and supported them in seeing their immense strengths and talents and just how darn amazing they all are. But those days are gone.

In the eye of the storm I landed in this new space where I carry a box and I administer a test called PALS. I must administer it because I was "trained" to give it and many teachers still do not know how to do it. Also, the teachers are so busy giving PARCC and DRA2 that they don't have time to give it. All testing is due by May 8th. I am in charge of reminding teachers of May 8th.

Many times I get kicked out of my office because another test is going on in there - such as the PARCC, which I have refused to administer. But, it did little good to refuse because there is always another test to administer, as you can see.  When children are not taking PARCC I can give them the PALS test. Now I stand in the aftermath of a storm - when PARCC is not being administered there is always a new hellish test to bring forward - in my case, it is PALS.  If PARCC is being administered in my office, I must carry everything with me - my lunch, my bag of notebooks and student supplies should I get to do something worth doing. I refuse to give PALS to children if they are taking PARCC that day so I continually must examine the calendar to see where to go next. I carry my PALS kit like a doctor paying home visits. And then of course there is my coffee in hand to keep me awake during these hours of testing and finally my laptop. I juggle all of it and carry it all from room to room as we stand on our last leg in this final rage of the storm that ends on May 8th. The data must be in by that date.  No excuses. No exceptions. I continually must dig into data programs to see which children are in need of the PALS assessments. We find errors. Some are listed as needing PALS and don't. Others should be on a READ plan (which can declare third grade retention if children do not hit benchmark numbers on PALS and DRA2) and they aren't. Others are on the verge of qualifying for a READ plan and you feel the fear rise up in your body as you pray that they hit the right reading "level" to avoid this plan. Others can exit READ and I feel like I saved them from hell. I give a special thanks to the universe when I exit a child from this god forsaken READ plan and I curse the legislators who created such a monster to harm my children while placing me as an accomplice.

Sometimes in the aftermath of a storm a structure will crash down. The aftermath can be the most dangerous time. Things will crumble unexpectedly or an electric wire will suddenly ignite a fire as folks wander through to see - what is left? What remains? We're still looking for those glimpses of something we recognize. Something we can grab onto and remember what the reality of public education should like and we are continually planning how to get it back. 

During this aftermath I must serve as that electric wire, or that trigger to crumble a building. You see, when the children are done PARCC testing, truly in the eye of the storm, they think they are done. They think it's over. But it's not. They must get pulled back in by me or by their teacher to take the PALS or the DRA2 or the Mondo Oral language or the math assessments. I am that unfortunate disaster that arrives, box in hand, during the aftermath. I pull them back into the storm while they are in the midst of that work on a diorama.  It all appears perfectly innocent to any bystander. It's simply a test that asks a child to read words, to read a passage, perhaps to tell me their letter sounds or blend or segment a word. Absolute innocence as I sit on the floor out in the hallway with a child while I punch away at my computer and the child obediently answers the questions. No one would recognize it for the danger it represents, except myself and other teachers, who know the READ Act and who know why I am there.

So let's see what that building looks like as it crumbles with us inside and how a teacher might try to help the child escape this aftermath. This is how PALS works. It expects no knowledge from the teacher to determine the child's abilities. It is truly a listen and click system where online I click what the child said or did. The PALS system requires you to start at grade level and bumps you up or down depending on how the child does. Right now we only administer PALS to READ Act students - these are students who have been labeled as failing by our state legislators who created and voted for this law - so we will clearly put the blame where blame belongs  - point the finger at the legislators.  When I begin the test, it starts at grade level and bumps them down, because as I said before, they have already been labeled as failures. This is how the structure crumbles.  A child reads a fourth grade word list. They fail. It bumps them down to third. They fail. It bumps them down to second. I attempt to figure out a way to make this process somewhat doable, you know - you try to rationalize how torturing these children can be not a big deal, normal, as inside I am panicking as I know where this is headed and I know what part I am playing. I figure out ways to game the system a bit to avoid the absolute crushing of a child's soul as it continues to bump the child down. Now we are at the first grade list. Then Preprimer. The child is failing. 

Suddenly we arrive at Humpty Dumpty. This is when the absolute insanity and terror arrive and no longer can I even begin to hang on by a thread of normalcy. The PALS system tells me what to do. I read it in horror. I must have this ten year old read Humpty Dumpty with me. We could go into all sorts of discussions here about racism, children at the age of ten who struggle with reading and why, nursery rhymes for white children, discussions of how we can take down the READ Act, and perhaps at this point you are saying, Peggy, walk away and refuse to do it. But save those discussions for another day because right now I am face to face with a ten year old and must administer the final blow of the test that confirms the child's failure. The child does not know the Humpty Dumpty rhyme as the child did not grow up hearing this rhyme. PALS demands all sorts of things that I, as a teacher, am not supposed to consider or THINK about doing or not doing - I am not in charge - PALS is - this is suppose to make my life easier and I am suppose to embrace it.  I am suppose to move forward with "fidelity." That is how corporate education reform works. Fidelity to fail children and humiliate them, abandon them, and have them look at you thinking, I thought you were with me?  Corporate education reform demands that we teachers act as traitors to our children as we place them in situations which we know will prove them to be failures, using racist and culturally biased tests that discriminate against them.  This is the aftermath. The child finishes PARCC and I arrive. They thought it was over. It is not. And it appears it will never be over unless the parents continue to rise up and refuse.

In my head I am trying to use teacher judgment and decision-making as I maneuver through the online world of PALS. I want to start on the word list that I know is this child's independent level. That makes sense right?  And then I want to move up to the instructional level.  But it insists that I start at a level I know is frustration for this child.  It will be necessary to game the system to avoid watching the child crumble in front of me.  This is the deep dark work of the ugliness of high stakes testing that pushes teachers to potentially cheat. Will I go to jail if I zeroed out the fourth grade list rather than listen to the child say "I don't know" on 20 words? Will I go to jail because I refuse to use the flashing screen component where the word appears and the child must quickly say the word or say I don't know as I must click seconds later to go to the next word? What about the fluency component? A child who reads the PALS 5th grade reading passage slowly and with comprehension gets bumped down to third grade because she doesn't read fast enough. Let's imagine for a minute that a teacher gamed the system and turned off the fluency timer when this additional horror was discovered. Will this teacher go to jail?

Perhaps you laugh at these scenarios. I don't. As I explained the complexities of PALS to various friends the first thing that was asked was, if one should, perhaps, game the system - is that cheating - meaning - you could go to jail?  Why would one - a person who is not a teacher or working in the public schools -  ask that? One word. Atlanta. A message to teachers everywhere. Punishment will be handed out. 

Perhaps folks think this is nothing. But you weren't there when the child stopped in the middle of a passage and said, am I doing okay? Do you want me to read faster? Children know high stakes and they know how to game the system too. It doesn't matter if they comprehend, speed is key. You weren't there when the child fumbled on Humpty Dumpty and you weren't there when a ten year old child was required to read four word lists, a book that was clearly designed for kindergarten and finally was forced to blend and segment words and tell me their letter sounds. You weren't there when the child said the words loudly at first and then in a mumbled whisper at the end as she felt the failure.  You weren't there when ten assessments and an hour later I finally could let the child go back to the class.  You weren't there for the aftermath.  You weren't there trying to figure out how to ease the pain. So much for refusing to administer the PARCC.  The hell has seeped into every crevice of our building and the aftermath is never ending.

Perhaps this blog post makes no sense. I am not sure I can make sense of the eye of the storm or the aftermath. If you are not there, as our dear legislators are not, there is no way to truly feel it.

I end my day by visiting a classroom where inquiry is hopping and buzzing; a  younger grade where the harm felt is a little bit less.  I think of the tired expression on the children's faces when I pulled them for testing PALS. I think of the one child who did well and will exit the READ plan. Just one. And now I look at these children engaged in inquiry and loving every second of learning and my breath catches and I fear I might cry. That's the moment in the aftermath of a storm where you see your child's doll, and you hold her back as she tries to go run for it and pull it from the rubble, where danger still might lurk. 

I try to think with clarity these days about how this will look next year and what I will do. What will my next step be in rebuilding public schools?  The test and punish system is destroying us and it is close to completion.  Complete and utter destruction at such deep levels within the psyches of children and teachers who live it day by day. The conditioning to comply and accept failure has become normal and unquestioned. The ability to come out and breathe when there is a moment of true learning becomes increasingly more difficult to enjoy or truly believe in - because it is all a fraud as we wait for the next test and punish moment. I counted approximately 7 weeks max this year where I felt that I was engaged in true teaching and students were engaged and uninterrupted so that they could truly learn. It is no wonder we are tired, foggy and untrusting of any person, program or entity that comes into our building and proclaims they are here to help us, the so-called failing turnaround school.  We are anything but failing - we are fighters.  It is no wonder I feel immense anger towards those with privilege who continue to allow their children to take these tests. It is no wonder that I listen with rage as teachers in districts with wealthy zipcodes talk to me about how they only have one meeting once a month and they rarely have to administer READ Act assessments because most of their children come from homes with food and plentiful books.

Many teachers in schools of high poverty are fighters - we are growing stronger by the day. We are gearing up and quietly planning underground, together, to reclaim our public schools. It is no wonder that we look at the legislators and just laugh at this point at the absolute absurdity of their political theater. We continue to devise our own secret plans to tear down this madness using strategies and techniques that could indeed get us fired. It is no wonder that we turn to the parents to help us and truly beg them to refuse these tests for their children. We are tired of being required to carry out the crimes of the legislators. Just six days left. May 8th. After May 8th I can breathe and crawl out of the rubble and begin again.  This time I'm not alone. We are planning. Underground. Quietly planning. Waiting for the aftermath to end. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Jody Dosher for CEA President and Social Movement Unionism

The CEA delegate assembly is in Denver this weekend. It’s no secret that I’m supporting Jody Dosher for CEA President. Jody was one of the founders of the R.A.V.E. caucus (Re-igniting Association Values for Educators). In the R.A.V.E. caucus we strive to bring social movement unionism to the people of Colorado. We work hard to unite teachers, parents, students and citizens across Colorado as we tear down corporate education reform  and rebuild, bringing equity and democracy back to our public schools, with communities leading the way.

At R.A.V.E. we hope to serve as a catalyst and a model for locals and our state affiliate to shift from business model unionism to social movement unionism.  We are incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, this weekend at the delegate assembly, to vote into office a president for our state NEA affiliate, CEA.  Jody Dosher has my vote for CEA president. He not only believes in social movement unionism, he acts on it. I was with Jody in Nashville this year at NCUEA where he introduced three NBIs which included allowing teachers to inform parents of opt out, amending IDEA to require families of special education students to be informed of all their options – including opt out, and finally, supporting teachers who refuse to administer these high stakes tests.  All three NBIs passed at NCUEA and now Jody will introduce them at the CEA delegate assembly, asking for member support to move these forward through our state affiliate.

If elected, Jody Dosher will lead a social movement union by looking to us, the members, for direction.

These are indeed hopeful times.

Often I get asked – what is the difference between business model unionism and social movement unionism?  In order to answer the question, I would first ask each of my readers to look within themselves.  What does the union feel like within you – as, you, are the union? What does the union look like, and sound like, in your own personal life, and how does it reside as an entity within your own school building? Social movement unionism has a strong presence in the schools and educates teachers to stand up for their communities, their students and for themselves.  

Teachers become what Henry Giroux has termed public intellectuals.  He states: To deny educators the opportunity to assume the role of public intellectuals is to prevent teachers from gaining control over the conditions of the work, denying them the right to "push at the frontiers, to worry the edges of the human imagination, to conjure beauty from the most unexpected things, to find magic in places where others never thought to look,"[24] and to model what it means for intellectuals to exhibit civic courage by giving education a central role in constructing a world that is more just, equitable and democratic in dark times.

Lois Weiner states it well hereThe ideal of social movement unionism relieves you from needing to know all the answers when you are elected to union office. Your job is to mobilize the membership and revitalize the union’s organization so that members tell officers what to do.

An example of social movement unionism could be seen with bargaining which would start at the local building level. Each building would share their vision of what they want and need for teachers and students.  These visions would then go to the bargaining committee and this committee would create a list of demands that would then be given to the members for a vote.

Business model unionism focuses mainly on bread and butter issues. Members only get involved when voting on contracts, electing officers, and goals are typically focused mainly on members’ immediate economic issues, versus moving out into a movement that incorporates our concerns for our communities, and ultimately our nation and our world.

Bill Fletcher explains social movement unionism here:  In a social movement union on the other hand, the union derives strength from its ability to mobilize members to struggle on their own behalf.  Power comes from the bottom up, as it does in social movements, and the union’s organizational form is just as important as its purpose.  Within a social movement union, the members’ self-interest would be broadly defined – going beyond immediate economic and contractual concerns.  Such a union struggles for its members’ stake in creating a democratic and equitable society, and allies itself with other movements also working for social justice, peace, and equality.

Right now across the country new unionism is indeed being reborn.  Educators are tearing down the business model union through caucus work, creating a base that is working its way up to rebuilding our unions at the local, state and national levels. We can see it best by simply turning to Chicago and CTU.  But here in Colorado, R.A.V.E. planted the seed this year and created a solid base of Colorado citizens who unite AFT, NEA, parents, teachers, students and community members to exemplify a social movement union. Jody supported our work and his candidacy for CEA President gives me great hope to imagine what CEA could look like a year from now, and how that leadership could help transform our locals.

Unfortunately, CEA has been highly involved with groups who are engaged in destroying the teaching profession, privatizing public education, and weakening our unions. It’s important to take a step back and look at what has occurred under our current CEA president’s leadership. The following examples exemplify business model unionism.  Within a business model union, union officials appear to have a seat at the table with the politicians. Sadly, this seat at the table is aiding in the dismantling of our teaching profession, our public schools, and our unions.  Business model unionism is not about children.   

Here are a few examples of Kerrie Dallman’s involvement with other organizations who support the corporate education reform.  These are simply facts to consider when casting your vote on Saturday.

Under Kerrie Dallman’s leadership, in October of 2014, CEA gave Raising Colorado $50,000 leading up to the elections.  The director of Raising Colorado is a DFER. Jen Walmer, the director, is the registered agent for Raising Colorado, an independent expenditure committee affiliated with DEFER. DFER worked hard to ram SB191 down the throats of legislators and teachers.

Kerrie Dallman was also selected as a “prestigious Aspen Teacher Leader fellow” for the Aspen-Bellwether Institute Teacher Leader Fellows Programs.  The Aspen Institute has received close to 60 million dollars from Bill and Melinda Gates to promote Gates’ policies, and Gates’ policies are being used to privatize public education and destroy the teaching profession.

Kerrie Dallman supported inBloom.  inBloom was a data-mining extravaganza which came very close to being a reality here in Colorado and would have allowed student data to be shared with for-profit vendors. The amount of data inBloom would have collected was insane – 400 data points on each child, including sensitive information: names, addresses, test scores, grades, economic and racial status, as well as detailed special education, immigration and disciplinary records.  A detailed profile would follow a child through his/her educational career and could indeed narrow a child’s opportunities within school and after graduation.  inBloom also was considering charging vendors for access to the data – which is comparable to selling children’s data or renting it out.  Parents worked hard to shut down inBloom and they succeeded. They were watching out for their children.  

See Kerrie’s comments here in the Denver Post regarding inBloom and my comments here

Finally, the horrific SB191 teacher evaluation process which Colorado teachers have had to endure this year was crafted by Senator Johnston, with recommendations from Kerrie Dallman.  Granted, she expressed some opposition to  SB191 , however, she co-authored a Denver post article with Senator Johnston titled Giving Colorado’s teacher evaluation bill time to succeed.  Succeed?  This bill is an absolute failure. There will be no success for children, teachers or public education via SB191. SB191  will be used to destroy real student learning, the teaching profession and our public schools. It will further the divide between the haves and the have-nots as test scores become 50% of our evaluation. It will eat up important planning time and instructional time as we are forced to fill out the tedious evaluation as well as create SLOs to support the 50% test score component. Our schools with the greatest need will be punished the most.

I share these facts in the hopes that everyone can make an informed vote this Saturday.  As I read the 2015 CEA Candidate Statements in the CEA Journal this week I found myself comparing the two candidates through the lense of the business model union and the social movement union.  It was a fascinating comparison.  Current CEA president Kerrie Dallman referred to three issues in her statement:  school funding, toxic testing and quality professional development.  It’s an interesting comparison because Kerrie’s statement is filled with numbers - number of members, dollar amounts for reducing the negative factor, and dollars for professional development.  It is all valuable information I suppose, but ultimately these numbers do not equate to educating members who must rise up to save our profession and our public schools.  Right now, we need our members to be leading the way. 

Current CEA candidate for president Jody Dosher discussed our members as being a source of knowledge to determine the direction of our profession and our public schools. Every sentence in his candidacy statement began with We will. He discusses working hard to repeal  SB191. He also states: Our members are justified in questioning partnerships with legislators who want to privatize public schools and eliminate our union.  I recommend that all CEA members take a look at their CEA Journal which should have arrived in your mailbox this week to form your own opinions.

It is also important to recognize that Amie Baca-Oehlert is not running on the same ticket as Kerrie Dallman.  The website (www.kerrieandamieforcea.com) is very misleading as a member might believe that if they vote for Amie they are required to vote for Kerrie. That is not the case. Amie is running unopposed and one can vote for Amie and Jody if they choose to do so.

Democracy is messy. I look forward to a union in which the members indeed tell the officers what we need, what we must do and how we must move forward to support a public education system built on equitable funding and democratic values for our children.  I look forward to helping create a union that is focused on caring about the health, intellectual, social, emotional and physical development of the child.  I look forward to creating a social movement union in which the parents are our allies, and we are able and willing to inform them on all issues and situations that currently are harming their children under our watch.  Our schools are owned by all of us – the parents, students, teachers and citizens – and we must all be involved in reclaiming them and demanding all for our children – democratic schools funded equitably where children are the focus and the heart of public education.

Have a wonderful delegate assembly everyone.  Vote for Jody Dosher for CEA President. Jody has over 25 years of classroom experience and has extensive association experience which you can read about on his website here: http://www.jodydosher.com .   Let’s rebuild this union as a social movement union for the children, our communities, and in order to save our profession, our public schools , and ultimately, our democracy.





Sunday, March 22, 2015

Littleton Public Schools, Colorado: Will You Stand on the Right Side of History?

Last Thursday night I addressed the Littleton School Board. See video here. Here are my comments.

My name is Peggy Robertson. My son, Sam, is a sophomore at Littleton High School. I am a teacher in the Aurora Public School District and I am also one of the founders of United Opt Out National, an activist group which works hard to end the privatization of public schools. I want to thank all of you tonight for doing your civic duty to support public schools and to support  children, teachers, and the communities within the Littleton School District.

Tonight I want to talk about the truth. I want to talk about what is really happening in our public schools today and I am going to ask that everyone here consider this truth, and consider our civic duty, our moral obligation, to expose this truth and educate the Littleton school community.

The truth is this. The truth is that our public schools are using high stakes testing to punish students, school communities and now, under SB191, the testing will punish teachers. The testing creates an environment that is fear-based, shaming, and  demands teaching to the test.  In Aurora, where I work as  a literacy coach at an elementary school, I have had only 4 weeks of the year which were uninterrupted by testing.   The tests consume our year and create a system which develops compliant test takers. These tests deny our children authentic learning experiences.  They deny our teachers the ability to teach.

I would ask that the school board and the administrators take a lead in exposing this testing profit machine for what it is.  It is a system that profits corporations on the backs of children and teachers. The common core standards and the national tests are a cash cow for the corporations. The profit of the testing industry has increased 57% in the last three years.  Under SB191, this system will demand teaching to the test like never before. These high stakes testing mandates  reward  only the very privileged – yet even these rewards are hallow – as these test scores simply point to zipcode. 

Littleton Public Schools has done quite well under this high stakes testing regime. Children from affluent neighborhoods often do well on these high stakes tests.  It doesn't mean that these children are smarter than other children, it simply means that they come from homes filled with books. Homes where food is plentiful.  And typically, homes where family and the community have the resources to create a support system to help these children as they grow into problem-solving citizens.

As you know, Littleton Public Schools was accredited with distinction by the CDE this past year.  We continue to achieve high test scores and we continue to ensure high real estate values.  These test scores mean nothing.  They assess narrow learning. They are racially and culturally biased.  And under PARCC, the READ Act, and CMAS social studies and science, these tests are denying our children real learning opportunities.  It is anticipated that PARCC will fail 70% of Colorado’s children.  These high stakes tests inflict the most harm on our neediest children: our children with exceptional needs, our children who suffer from emotional stresses, our second language learners, and our children who live in poverty. 

My son's high school, Littleton HS,  has a free/reduced lunch rate of approximately 26%. I wonder how those children will do on the PARCC test?  I wonder if they will receive the elective credit for PARCC that my son's high school is offering?   How can it be just and right to offer bribery - elective credit - for a test that is not yet even valid or reliable? A test that simply profits corporations and rewards the very privileged? The school where I teach in Aurora has a 76% free and reduced lunch rate.  Over 40 languages are spoken in my school.  Our children are brilliant.  They are creative. Our teachers are phenomenal.  Imagine trying to teach in a fear-based environment with hungry, smart children who speak multiple languages. Imagine trying to do right by these children in a fear-based environment which rewards only  the privileged. We also have 60 homeless children. I wonder how my students in Aurora will do on PARCC - a test that is two grade levels above the readability for the grade being tested? A test that demands typing skills from children who don't know how to type. A test that punishes children who don’t have technology in their homes.  I know how my students have done on TCAP in the past.   I know that my school is labeled as a turnaround school.  I know what that label does to children, teachers and school communities. I wonder if Littleton could possible understand what that feels like? What that does to a child's soul? To a school community? To be told we are failing when indeed we are not.  

Privilege is an amazing thing. It can be used to help and it can be used to harm.  It is time that Littleton stood on the right side of history. Let's use our privilege to expose the truth  - the educational malpractice that is occurring across our district and all of Colorado at the hands of these unjust mandates.   If you watch the news, there are principals, school board members, and superintendents all over the country sharing the harms of high stakes testing.   Tell the public the truth. PARCC is being used to fail children, teachers, and school communities. PARCC, CMAS, testing under the READ Act are making lives miserable for teachers and students.  Teachers cannot teach and children cannot learn in meaningful ways under these harsh conditions.  I have refused to administer the PARCC in Aurora. I refuse to allow my son to take PARCC or any other high stakes tests that can be used to punish and fail children. I trust Sam's teachers to assess my son. It is our civic duty to speak the truth and end this educational malpractice.  Teachers know how to assess.  Students  want to be engaged in purposeful authentic learning – not online test prep and online testing. On Littleton High School's website it asks that I contact my legislators.  Right now, the legislature is nothing but political theater.  It is time for our district and our parents to stand up and make the legislators listen to us. 

There is no penalty for opt out this year. There is no loss of federal funding. I recommend that the school board share that information with Littleton parents.  If parents understand that there is no penalty, and if they understand how PARCC and other high stakes tests are being used to deny our children real learning opportunities, many parents will refuse to allow their children to take these tests. Many parents will use their privilege to save public schools for the common good. We must demand that our legislators change policies to funnel money to support schools with wrap around services for poverty, small class size, librarians, nurses, counselors, and more. We must protect our teachers from the harmful effects of SB191 which could indeed tie 50% of our evaluation to these test scores. Be a leader in this movement to restore real learning to our classrooms and demand equitable funding for our public schools.

Thank you.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

ALEC, Pearson, Gates & Opt Out Bills vs. Civil Disobedience

I am not a supporter of opt out bills. This surprises lots of folks. Opt out bills distract from the real issues. Opt Out is NOT an anti-testing movement. We support teacher-created tests, portfolios, projects - all the things that allow teachers to determine how best to support their learners. Opt Out is a social movement which gains its power through the act of refusing the tests - an act of civil disobedience which denies the government and the corporations the much coveted data.  Data is the new gold. Refusing the tests, as an act of civil disobedience, is absolutely necessary in order to restore learning to our classrooms while demanding wrap around services and equitable funding for all schools.  Opt out bills do nothing to change the inequitable conditions in our public schools that legislators continue to ignore.  If Opt Out is legal, we can be guaranteed that our schools will still have racially and culturally biased high stakes tests.  Our schools will still funnel money to corporate testing and the technology for testing - a never ending cash cow.   Our schools will still lack nurses, librarians, libraries, art, music, PE, counselors and more.  Our schools will still operate within the confines of a fear-based environment which requires teaching to the test all year long. Our schools will still be segregated and void of democracy. Children will continue to be harmed. Teachers will continue to commit educational malpractice against their will.

Opt Out as an act of civil disobedience is necessary in order to force the government to change immoral and unjust laws.  

I do not need permission to opt out. Opt out bills proclaim to the masses that Opt Out must be legal in order for parents and students to refuse the tests.  If Opt Out is legal, and all repercussions are removed, they have just placed us back in the mode of servitude to the corporations via government mandates. Nothing changes. We lose our power and we lose the mass awakening that is occurring across the country as individuals look around and recognize that our democracy is being dismantled via the take down of our cornerstone, our public schools.

There is much to pay attention to as we gain power via Opt Out. It's important to recognize that co-optation of this social movement could indeed mean the decline of the Opt Out Movement.  

ECS , Education Commissioner of States, recently came out with a document that shares the legalities of Opt Out.  ECS is funded by Pearson and Gates, among others.  As Morna McDermott so astutely shares re: ECS,  "It's a Who's Who of ALEC membership."  

So, now ALEC supports sharing legalities of Opt Out?

ALEC, who is hell bent on privatizing public schools? ALEC, who is happy to throw the peasants a bone as ALEC methodically moves forward, ever so patiently, in their plans to destroy the teaching profession and dismantle the public schools?

Why do the corporations (Pearson, Gates, GE, Waltons, State Farm, Lumina, etc.) suddenly want to share the legalities of Opt Out? And why is ECS suddenly mainstream media's fav for explaining Opt Out?  Pay attention to who shares the ECS doc.  Recognize that there is a movement afoot to deny citizens the ability to use Opt Out as a powerful strategy that can ultimately demand that our legislators change immoral unjust laws. Recognize that if opt out bills pass, and the movement is co-opted by Pearson, Gates, and all who love ALEC,  Opt Out could lose its power.

I am certain of one thing - ALEC (via ECS) would not publish a document that allowed us, the masses, to gain power. ALEC intends to take us down - all of us - the schools, the students, the teachers, and our public school communities. 

While everyone circles around the opt out bills and rallies to "protect" some of us from those punitive measures enforced via federal mandates, know that the privatization of public schools will continue. Many children will continue to be harmed. All children deserve to be protected. ALL children deserve an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue.  

Why would we settle for less?

The public will continue to be distracted by messages of "legal" opt out while ignoring poverty. Opt Out is an act of civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is the refusal to obey certain laws or governmental demands for the purpose of influencing legislation or government policy.  

If Opt Out is legalized across the country, the necessity to change laws becomes less urgent. Folks will be appeased for a bit, allowing those who privatize to continue to move forward methodically as they push forward their long term goals.  They are happy to appease us from time to time - it's no skin off their back - they're still slowly dismantling our democracy and making billions as the data continues to flow ever so freely, via common core standards and high stakes testing.

Are we opting out simply to protect our own? Or, are we opting out in order to create a fundamental shift in our country? A shift which demands all for our children. A shift which restores democracy and humanity.

As opt out bills come to fruition, pay attention to who supports them - which powerful organizations are suddenly jumping in to ride the wave of Opt Out? Which individuals have appeared out of nowhere? How might supporting Opt Out SUPPORT them in keeping a seat at the table? Granted, there are many good folks who support opt out bills, including many of my allies, but there are also many folks keeping their seat at the table and using the bills to defeat a powerful social movement that demands all for all children. 

Who knew Pearson and Gates wanted to share with the country how folks can go about opting out? Pearson and Gates, via ECS, are now the "voice" for opt out?  How might they benefit from this?  The love is overwhelming.  Sucks the air right out of you doesn't it?


Eyes Open. Wide. Do not let this movement get co-opted