Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Jewell Elementary & Aurora Public Schools Skirt Law

Letter sent to Colorado State Board of Education, as well as media, senators who sponsored bill, Aurora Education Association, Aurora superintendent office and Aurora school board.

Dear Board Members,

I wrote to you last week concerning PARCC incentives that are occurring at Jewell Elementary in the Aurora Public School District. See here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/03/08/school-offers-incentives-to -get-kids-to-take-common-core-standardized-test/?utm_term=.ac09ab89615a 

The incentives are still moving forward. There is a lot to be concerned about here; it's clear that HB 15-1323 (often referred to as the opt out law) is not being followed. Jewell plans to exclude "opt out" students from PARCC rewards.

However, in addition to that, Jewell plans to have negative consequences for students who do not show great effort. How is effort determined? Trying to determine effort will be very subjective, and sadly, will impact children who need the most support. Children who have behavior issues, or simply can't sit still, may be punished simply because they cannot endure these long testing sessions. As a teacher, I can assure you that these testing sessions are brutally exhausting.

I am told that the word "extracurricular" is how Aurora is getting around the law. They believe prizes and celebrations for test participation do not count as "extracurricular."  Therefore, they believe there are no negative consequences for children. I am a bit floored by this attempt to twist the law. Raffles and parties which exclude children are clearly negative consequences for opt out children, regardless what one might think "extracurricular" refers to.

I looked up the definition of extracurricular and I'm pretty sure that raffles and parties do not fall within the normal routine of the school day at Jewell. For a district to attempt to skirt the law in such a manner is disgraceful.

I would really appreciate your help with this. If Aurora is allowed to do this, it sets a clear precedence for other districts. There should be no enticements for testing and children should not be punished for so-called low effort or opting out.  The "opt out" portion of the law is worthless if opt out children can be punished simply because someone has decided that prizes and parties are not considered extracurricular. Finally, punishing children who have "low effort" is cruel and targets our children with the most needs. This particular section of HB 15-1323 (see page 16) must be honored, otherwise more districts will move forward with such bribery and punishment.

Thank you for your help.


Peggy Robertson

Friday, March 10, 2017

Retweet to @aurorak12 please re: PARCC incentives at Jewell Elementary

If you read my post from last Sunday you will know that there is currently a PARCC incentive plan afoot in my former school, Jewell Elementary in the Aurora Public School District. The plan will reward students who show great effort on PARCC and who attend on all testing days. It will punish children who do not show great effort. It will punish students whose parents have opted them out.

As you can imagine, the children who don't show great effort will be the children who are struggling in some shape or form, whether it be due to problems at home, stresses at school, lack of food, fatigue, emotional and behavioral needs that are not addressed, the list goes on. So, our neediest children who test will be punished for lack of effort. The opt out students will be punished because their parents are refusing to allow their children to participate.

This week has been a week of attempting to shut this PARCC incentive plan down. You can read more about it in these links:


Washington Post (Answer Sheet w/Valerie Strauss)

And Peter Greene did a nice piece about testing bribes here.

Currently there are lots of rumors running around so it's hard to know how this will be resolved. These PARCC incentives are not in compliance with the House Bill 15-1323 which was passed in 2015. There is some indication that Aurora believes they have skirted the law successfully because the PARCC incentives occur during school hours (HB 15-1323 states you cannot deny opt out students "extracurricular" activities, which apparently is being translated as activities after school). Jewell is planning raffle prizes and a party during school hours.

So, does that mean it's okay to punish children during school hours only? Not after school?

There are some rumors that Jewell might pull back from such a harsh stance and bend the policy a little. But the PARCC incentives will indeed remain.

This is not okay. Our children are not dogs to be given treats. Our children should not be taught that compliance is the best policy. Our children should not be taught that this test has any value whatsoever to a child's life. As Stephen Krashen states regarding these tests, "The tests only serve to enrich the oligarchy. There is no evidence that they help students."

There is plenty of evidence that they harm students.

Senator Holbert and Senator Kerr are looking into this - they both sponsored HB 15-1323. Hopefully we will hear more on this soon.

In the meantime, I would appreciate any help tweeting to @aurorak12 as well as media. You can find me on Twitter @PegwithPen. Feel free to retweet my tweets or simply create your own. We must continue to push back against policies which harm children.

Many many thanks to all of you.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Jewell Elementary offers PARCC (CMAS) Incentives

On Friday, March 3rd, Jewell Elementary parents received a letter regarding PARCC incentives. Yes - it's THAT time of year. Many Colorado schools refer to PARCC as CMAS. 

To catch new readers up to speed before I launch into the information about PARCC incentives, let me give you a quick recap. I taught at Jewell Elementary for four years. The first three years were absolutely amazing. We were working hard to become an inquiry-based democratic school. All of our hard work came crashing down in the 2015-2016 school year when we became a Relay Leadership School. All of our work, our beliefs, our identity, were erased, and we were mandated to follow the new mantra via Relay.  My position at Jewell was eliminated last year.

Needless to say, this year, 2016-2017, things have grown worse. Relay policies play a large role in the instruction at Jewell Elementary.  Teachers have minimal time to plan - most planning time is dictated. Children must now come in earlier to eat breakfast, and therefore teachers lose planning time in the morning. And of course, testing is everything. And now it is PARCC season.

The letter Jewell Elementary parents received Friday discusses two "recognition systems" that will be used during PARCC testing. One recognition system is a raffle. Students will receive tickets for attendance during testing days and tickets for putting forth their best effort on the PARCC test. At the end of  PARCC, the children's tickets will be used to raffle off baskets of goodies. Parents have been asked to donate items for the baskets, although the letter states that donations are not required. The letter specifically states that only "new" items can be donated for the basket - and that items should be five dollars or less.

The second recognition is an "Attendance and Effort Party" which will take place in April, when PARCC is finally done. Only students who have attended all testing days AND have put forth their best effort will be allowed to attend the party. The party will include games, treats, music and a bouncy castle.

I could write a complete thesis on why this is so wrong on so many levels - I'm sure many of my readers could do so as well. However, today I'm simply going to share the Colorado law, House Bill 15-1323 , signed by the governor on May 20th, 2015. 

This law specifically states:



Students whose parents opt them out must be allowed to attend school.

Opt out students cannot be listed as unexcused.

Students who opt out CANNOT be prohibited from participating in extracurricular activities - such as raffles and little parties with bouncy castles.

Furthermore, as I reported last year, districts must have in place a policy to allow parents to opt their children out of tests. Aurora's policy last year was almost impossible to find.

HB 15-1323 states:

The law has a lot more information as well, including how parents should be informed of what tests are being taken and so on - see pages 14-16.

I am told that other schools in the Aurora Public School District are also offering incentives for PARCC.

My heart goes out to the students and teachers who are being forced to adhere to these mandates which destroy true learning while filling the pockets of the corporations. I hope that parents will refuse to allow their children to participate in PARCC (and all other corporate testing) so that the teachers at Jewell can be allowed to teach. Parents, Jewell teachers are quite capable of telling you about your child's strengths and next steps without these corporate tests.

And bouncy castles and raffles? Please, don't insult the children and don't insult the teachers. Sadly the mantra in the public schools now is compliance to the corporate testing machine. 

I was lucky enough to teach before NCLB, I remember what teaching and learning truly can be.  If you are interested in seeing where the testing machine is headed, I recommend reading this post I wrote last year - The Opt Out Irony. Next, I recommend keeping a close eye on the blog Wrench in the Gears.

Jewell teachers, wishing you well. I miss you and the children.  Let's hope Jewell leadership quickly drops these ridiculous PARCC incentives. You deserve better. Parents - please opt your children out of these tests. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Why did I have to "tell you so?"

This blog was first posted at Bustedpencils.com on 11/19/2016.  My blogging will now encompass my additional activist work outside of education, so you can read my work here and at BustedPencils.

"All indications are that labor has been caught unprepared for a President Trump and a GOP-controlled Congress and Supreme Court. With such broad control over every branch of government, Trump may be able to not only roll back many of Obama’s accomplishments, but also change the face of labor law for decades to come." - read more at Think It’s Tough for Labor Now? Just Wait Until Trump Takes Office in January

Remember that seat at the table? The frenemies? The support for #teachstrong? The #ESSA opportunity? The union endorsement of Hillary? And then the Bernie endorsement of Hillary? Remember? Some of you may even remember the most bizarre turn of events where it became clear that the new ed. activist mantra was compromise, and those of us who refused to negotiate with children's lives were suddenly labeled "purists." Remember?

Remember how Racist Relay "Graduate" School glided through in Colorado practically on ice skates (as it did in other states), and Teach Like a Champion Racist (hear plate hitting wall) had some "good things" in it? Remember how we've been screaming about the absolute racist practices in the public schools for years - specifically in our urban public schools populated by children of color - and we were met with silence? Remember how many children suffered and were abused? How many teachers left or were fired or their positions were eliminated - because ultimately the union did NOT have our backs? While certain individuals continued to sit around and "talk" about how we could "get a little" for our kids - and those of us who demanded MORE were labeled angry and just downright difficult to work with? Remember how we were ignored while arrogant condescending so-called power players kept hanging on to that seat at the table? Boy, I remember.

Well, this is where it got us. This is what it got for our kids and our teachers. Yeah, it was tough before, but now? Between ESSA, Trump, and the already absolute racist practices in our urban public schools via Obama and previous presidents and ed. policy, I would hope somebody out there is ready for a revolution. And if you think it's going to happen via our national unions or the democratic party think again - they are CORPORATE OWNED AND CONTROLLED.

And yes, I'm truly happy to see people protesting now, people who previously ignored all of this while protecting their own and staying absolutely fucking comfortable as hell - so sad it had to get to this point to wake people up. But clearly it was necessary. So thank you for waking up. But, moving forward, let's not forget for one second how we got here - be sure to thank the unions and the dems and the liberals for helping get us right to this absolute spot we sit in now. How does it feel? Pretty shitty? Well, think back on the kids in Aurora, Denver, Chicago, Detroit, Philly, New Orleans and more - who've been dealing with this shit FOREVER - think about that. Think about that urgency that was ignored - and get this - is STILL IGNORED - think about 500 years of this shit happening. And think about the opportunity we have to do something right - for all people - for all humanity - for the common good - for children.

The urgency is not new - it's old as hell. Let's do this. #greenparty

Last Day at Standing Rock

This blog was first posted at Bustedpencils.com on 11/10/2016.  My blogging will now encompass my additional activist work outside of education, so you can read my work here and at BustedPencils.

This is the final blog in a series of pieces from Standing Rock.  See these links for previous posts.

I'm a Colonizer but I feel the Sacred

I'm a Colonizer but I feel the Sacred Part II

The Front Line

Stories from Standing Rock

Peaceful Protest and Breathing

The Protectors of Humanity #NoDAPL

November 8th, 2016

This morning I receive a sage blessing from Dawn Neptune Adams of the Penobscot Nation and I drag Sam out of the tent to make sure he receives a blessing too. The steam is rising up off the river and the frost is thick.

Today is really my last day at Standing Rock. We leave tomorrow morning. It's a slow day. Mainly a day of taking stock of our supplies and deciding how to disperse them.  We take some time to head back up to the bridge one more time along with some friends who hadn't seen the ruthless aftermath of the corporate oligarchy.

One thing I've learned from my trip to Standing Rock:  You are where you need to be when you need to be there. And many thanks to Dawn for reminding my son and myself of that.

Sam and I also head over to donations to find thermal underwear for the Front Line. They've requested it. We haul off every adult piece we can find and bag it up to take it to them later.

We are kind of at that point of thinking things through..... and how all this impacts our direction in life when we leave - it's a privilege to do this. We think how we can help Standing Rock in the future. We want to come back - but if we come back - meaning it's still here - does that mean no progress has been made?

Or, perhaps if it is still here, it simply means that the various goals, one being a collective of people who wish to create a community that is based on the common good, is indeed achieving success.

Does that mean that the pipeline will be shut down? Not necessarily.  And where does that leave the courageous men and women on the front line? I don't know. The construction people were digging the pipeline on election day. We can see it from our camp.

There is a plan to push forward by the front line, but as we discussed at our campfire, these fights are cyclical. One push might make the next push achieve success. It's hard to know what will happen.

I have a few thoughts on Standing Rock and some things to consider if you plan to come and help.

First - remember - you are here to help - not to direct .  If you're white, check that white privilege at the door and learn how to listen.

Regarding where to camp.  This will most likely offend some folks.  It's my opinion - take it or leave it. We stayed at the Oceti Sakowin camp.  Sacred Stone (the most "publicly" known camp) - is across the Cannon Ball River.  Sacred Stone is referred to by many as Sacred Woodstock. It is largely populated by white people.  And Sacred Stone has received many many donations. Donate to Oceti Sakowin here.

That being said, should white people come to Standing Rock to help?? OF COURSE. But help, and listen.

Other thoughts - my only moments of cringing, or feeling ashamed or embarrassed while at Standing Rock this week were due to the actions of some of the white people.

Let me give an example. At the bridge, where the burned trucks and barbed wire separate the law enforcement from the entrance to Oceti Sakowin camp I witnessed a white female rushing forward towards the trucks and yelling to those of us standing behind the flags on the hill (standing behind flags as directed by tribal camp leaders). She yelled to us that nothing would get done by standing back and we all needed to rush forward with her. There were approximately hundred people at that point watching as we stood behind the flags. Luckily no one listened to her. The tribal leaders have a plan, and the white people are there to help and listen. Not takeover. Not create wreckless disasters that could harm the peaceful plan of the tribal leaders. Not spend their days trying to party and attempt to recreate a Woodstock scenario. Please represent us well.  Don't make this about "you"  - this is a chance to give back and to face history, and our ancestors role in colonizing - genocide - of indigenous people and land.

Other thoughts re: coming to Standing Rock:

It's cold. Be sure you have enough blankets to be warm. Assume you don't have enough - truly.

Hand warmers (the packets) are a must.

Tent? Make sure it can handle freezing temperatures and be sure to take notice of your tent's pathetic construction compared to the teepees that stand strong and warm in the fiercest of winds and subzero temperatures.

Head lamp a must.

If you are blogging expect to have to leave camp to get anything uploaded.

The additional chargers for phones, etc. are pretty essential (I didn't have one). The signal at Media Hill is weak and the solar panel charging works, but it is slow.

Boots. Period.

Camp near a portapotty - at three a.m. you will thank me.

The wind is fierce - be sure to have the proper winter items to cover your face.

If you wear contacts - good luck - bring extras.

Food? Depends on how you plan to contribute. There is plenty of food, but we brought our own as we didn't want to take food from the community. I suppose if you plan to work in the kitchen then perhaps eating there for free might work for some. You'll have to make those decisions. Water? Also available at camp. Perhaps bring your own jugs and refill as needed? A "dolphin" to put on top of a jug is a luxury but a good investment.

If you plan to get arrested, be sure to have a plan in place for bail and don't expect to be out within the hour. You may end up in Fargo, and in a dog cage. And be prepared to be strip searched.

Wood for a fire. You will forever need wood. There of course is wood at the camp, but again think through how you plan to contribute before taking - just my opinion.

Leaving camp - if you plan to leave to do anything, such as run a simple errand, anticipate a three to four hour trip. The detours make it impossible to do anything fast.

The casino -about the only place you can go and be back to camp quickly - it's a good place to recharge your phone, laptop, etc., if you get lucky enough to find one of the plugs. There are a few in the lobby and near the restaurant. They might let you stay, they might not.

I am told you can shower at the marina.

Finally, recognize that these are all problems of the privileged and keep it in check.


Much gratitude and love to the indigenous people of Standing Rock and the protectors at the Front Line.

Mni Wiconi.

Nov. 9th, 2016 - The day after the election.

I woke up in my tent not knowing if Clinton or Trump had won. I made my way up to Media Hill in the dark to check the news on my phone after hearing from a friend at camp that Trump was indeed the winner.  I videotaped Oceti Sakowin as the sun came up - listen for the singing. It gave me some peace of mind and reminded me that the fight for humanity must move faster than ever before. No time to cry. No time to mourn. The revolution must be now. Much love to you all. Let's get this done.

The Protectors of Humanity #NoDAPL

This blog was first posted at Bustedpencils.com on 11/8/2016.  My blogging will now encompass my additional activist work outside of education, so you can read my work here and at BustedPencils.

Day 6

Nov. 7th, 2016

It's the day before the election.  I'm at Standing Rock - where life is real - people are real, and work is pure - and at the end of the day you feel that you did something good. Even when we look at the humvees planted in the hills, or hear the airplane that circles regularly during the day, or listen to the constant chopping of air as the helicopter circles us at night - at the end of the day, I feel grateful for every human contact I made, and I sleep well after using my time to give back, whether it be writing, physical labor, or simply meeting others at Standing Rock who have come here with similar goals in mind.

Today we cooked breakfast, cleaned up, and watched one of our newest members of the camp, a city dog, find her way around Ocete Sakowin.  Sam and I then made our way to the school, which was still in the process of being relocated, so we decided to head back to the Front Line to see how we could help. I think everyone has to find their place once they come to Standing Rock, and Sam and I have discovered that we can move between two locations - the school, and the Front Line. We are of the most use in those two locations.

We now know the way to the Front Line well. We cross over the bridge, past Rosebud camp, past Sacred Stone camp, and head left into the field passing by horses, dogs, people all the while watching the humvees in the hills across the river.  When we get to the Front Line a lot has changed. Of course the law enforcement is always watching so sharing the "changes" is in no way divulging a secret. There are more tents, more food, more supplies, and today, two brand new tents that are massive and need to be erected. One will be the kitchen and the other a meeting space. Sam already helped relocate the school so he knows how to put up these tents for the most part. There are members of many tribes here, some from here in North Dakota, others from far away. We spend the entire day putting up these tents. Our third visit to the Front Line and they once again, welcome us right away, and are thankful for our help. As the only female helping put up the tent, I feel a bit self conscious, as a city girl, who honestly has about 20 minutes experience with tents. But I'm learning, and they  have no problem including me. I watch what happens, and I simply duplicate the action.

We put up the first tent and then realize we haven't put up the center frame pole yet. So, down come all the poles and up goes the center. We work together reading directions, learning from our mistakes, laughing, joking, and simply talking about the task at hand. Life is good. These are good people. The longer I am here, the harder it is to try to separate the reality with the humanity that greets me daily here with handshakes, hugs, and kindness. And of course the question always goes back to, What is next? I ask. There is a plan.

Of course there is. And I thank them for that and I don't ask anymore.

The wind is absolutely fierce today. Those who have bandanas or scarves or whatever it may be have covered their faces.  It's cold and it's so loud with the rippling of the tent canvas that at times it's hard to hear. I look around at the Front Line and I can't imagine how amazing they will feel tonight as they eat and meet inside the warm and tightly constructed tents.

We ask what else they need. They need wood, meat, chairs, tables, and thermal underwear. They are preparing for the winter.  I purposely don't take pictures of anyone, nor will I mention any names, even though at the end of this afternoon I considered these men to be friends, even if for a brief moment. They knew Sam by name and thanked him for his help.

We will head back in the morning with whatever supplies we are able to gather. I'm going to see what we can donate from our own camp supplies before we leave.

I spent some time talking to one of the men about the camp, about how long he'd been there and then I finally asked, How long will you stay?

Till the end, he said.

I think about the election. I think about Standing Rock. And I think about how far removed the two are from one another, and then how incredibly close they really are, hiding in the hills, watching with the floodlights, the helicopters, the airplanes and the armed men with binoculars. They are so close that I want to scream at them. I want to scream words of hate. But I won't. I won't. I'm in a place of peace and forgiveness. And let me tell you, as a white woman, walking onto the Front Line, and being treated with kindness, and respect, where men from many tribes allow me to help - without any knowledge of who I might truly be, well that's forgiveness. There is something much deeper going on here than simply a tent being raised.

The protectors of water are the protectors of humanity.

That much I know.

And this election - this election be damned.

I'm thankful to be spending the night at Standing Rock on Tuesday night, election night. Thankful to have one more night falling asleep to the drums and the cry of Mni Wiconi. Mni Wiconi.

Peaceful Protest and Breathing

This blog was first posted at Bustedpencils.com on 11/6/2016.  My blogging will now encompass my additional activist work outside of education, so you can read my work here and at BustedPencils.

Nov. 6th, 2016

Last night we went to the casino in order to make a mad dash to upload all blogs, pictures, social media, etc., that each of us has promised to various organizations and groups.  When we returned it was after eleven p.m. Sam and I crawled into our tent exhausted. We had been going nonstop all day long.  As I crawled in I heard the drum circle and the singing once again. I thought to myself about how ridiculously beautiful this is. Now that I am accustomed to the temperature at night, and I am comfortable in my tent, it's almost like mother earth is singing me to sleep. The singing was then followed by the cry Water is Life (in English) -  which then bounced like a raindrop twenty tents over where some cried out Mni Wiconi, bouncing again 30 tents in a different direction.....Mni Wiconi, and so it goes, over and over, and I drifted off to sleep, very grateful.

I woke this morning to a packed camp. I noticed yesterday that people were piling in for the weekend. But this morning, it's clearly full. I am told that 3,000 people are here during the week and that it rises to approximately ten thousand on the weekends, which explains why my attempts to charge my phone and computer at Media Hill were absolutely futile on Saturday. As I sat and drank coffee by the fire this morning we heard music over at camp security. Our camp is right next to the camp exit where security stands 24/7. A man, soon to be known as Peter, had stopped there in his car and turned on his radio and started dancing. I went over and joined and then filmed a small clip. It will make you smile. And it was a great way to start my morning.

After finishing breakfast by the campfire my son yells for me to hurry. There is a group headed into the Morton County Memorial Courthouse for a peaceful protest. We decide to go.  I hadn't gone into town for any protests and I was interested to see what might transpire.  We drove what seemed to be a good hour, finally arriving at the courthouse and linking hands all the way around the building. I was at a corner of the building, and oddly enough, found myself linking hands with people from Colorado on both hands. My understanding of the protest was that we were there to make it clear that we must all forgive, we must all come in peace together, in order to regain our humanity and to protect the water. It was a beautiful protest, followed by some beautiful thoughts from Lilah Johnson.  Lilah discusses how she came to organize this peaceful protest today. She looked to her sisters in Ferguson, Missouri.

In some ways this protest was hard for me, hard to slow down, hard to simply be still and meditate with peaceful thoughts....I wanted to get back to camp - there were things we needed to do. I'm a city girl, I move fast, I get things done real fast, and that's not necessarily always the right or most helpful way to be. Sometimes it's important to just be present. I was reminded of that today where I was forced to stop, breathe, and simply hold hands in silence.

As we headed back to camp we stopped by a horrific sight - it truly makes me choke up viewing it. It was a portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was like someone had taken an ax to the earth - yet they didn't stop with one chop. They were merciless. They hacked again and again and again. They hacked over the hills, in a murderous way, leaving the earth exposed and wood planks had been pounded into the ground to demand compliance. They then had taken that now all too familiar barbed wire that I see at Standing Rock - it flows in circle after circle to bind off an area from anyone who might feel the need to stop their cold and calculated progress. We took pictures. Dawn, a member of the Penobscot tribe, and a Green Party member, gave me some tobacco (asemaa) and told me to toss it to the earth and say a prayer. Again, forcing me to slow down, forcing me to go within, and think deeply about what I do, and why I do it.

So I did. I stopped and thought. I stopped moving so fast. And I breathed.

I watched my son climb down into the Dakota Access Pipeline and I tried to imagine what he might feel and think, as his generation will see and know the consequences of this more than I ever will.

I took pictures, listened to car horns of support as they drove by, and then  I climbed back into the van to head back to camp.

I've been here four days and there has been no wind. None. In all the videos previous to coming here it was blustery. Today - there is wind. Immense wind. The flags are all flying high, including the United States flag positioned in the sign of distress. We are now back and I've climbed into our van to type before I forget all the things that have transpired. It's impossible to type outside.  It's 2 pm.  Sam sits next to me in the van doing homework so that he doesn't get behind. We have people that stop by our camp to tell us they are voting for Jill Stein. They love our Green Party Banner.  We love being here.

Mni Wiconi.