Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Catch. Throw. Watch what happens. Opt Out is just the beginning.



Growing up, one of the phrases in our house was, Don't run around like a chicken with your head cut off. I have to say, I never liked that phrase. A little too visual for me. But it always struck a chord with me due to the picture it created in my head - it  definitely caused me to slow down, take a look around, and decide if I was on track - headed towards whatever my end goal might be.  I have always been fast to move, fast to eat, fast to talk, fast to think - it's my nature. It can be a strength and it can be a curse. 

This last year has been one in which I found myself continually running - head completely attached - but surrounded by folks who would love to knock it off (forgive the imagery - I can't seem to get away from it).  Those who seemed to be calling the shots this past school year did everything in their power to be certain that we indeed ran around scattered, exhausted, confused and unlikely to make any solid, sound decisions which could strategically push things forward - forward in the favor of children and all that could be realized within public schools - you know the drill, wrap around services and/or a society that cares about the 25% or more living in poverty. Democratic schools. Schools filled with arts, music, PE, inquiry, and learning based on the needs of the learners rather than the needs of some set of standards created by individuals who truly are looking only at profit and the power they can hold in order to increase their profit and power.

I dabbled in a lot of things this year - legislation, various speaking engagements, additional writing requests, union work, organizing conferences, interviews, opt out gone wild and more.  I dabbled because as a "big picture" person, I wanted to see the big picture to determine where my efforts should continue to be placed in the upcoming - crucial - 2014-2015 - school year - the year when SBAC and PARCC arrive and folks continue to run around like chickens with their heads cut off to implement a plan that is destined to fail children and destined to profit billionaires and those who are climbing various political and/or career ladders. 

So, while I run fast, I do so with purpose. And I stop from time to time to survey the scene. As I watched myself interact in the bigger picture - with myself planted firmly on the field - what I discovered is this - opt out remains the way to go. Period. It has the greatest impact. It creates the most noise and shakes the current business model charade in our public schools - the charade that continues to be shoved down our throats while folks obediently nod, smile and take notes. Opt out depletes them of their ever beloved data - as a result their power diminishes and their profit disappears, much like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz - keep that image in your mind - it can be satisfying to think of as opt out numbers increase in your neck of the woods.

But back to the field - as I stood on that field - with the legislators, the district administration, the folks from the federal and state department of education and government, the chamber of commerce, the corporations,  the community members, the media, the children, the parents and the teachers - while keeping my eye clearly on the ball - I discovered that when the ball was thrown to me - it was mainly from the parents. Night and day they threw balls to me.  And they wanted it to be thrown back quickly. Just like me - they wanted to move fast. If I didn't respond quickly, they emailed again. They called again. They FB messaged me, sent texts to my phone and more. There was no time to wait and they had no patience for these games that other people play in which people want to discuss, appease, create moratoriums, delay, or simply sleep on it - while THE CHILDREN CONTINUE TO SUFFER.

Parents wanted the ball back fast so they could throw it at their next target - opting out of the test. I discovered whenever anyone else threw me the ball, they wanted the ball back - but they also wanted to keep it for awhile to meet their own personal needs.  Not near the hurry. A lot of times they'd juggle it, give it to their dog for a bit - they had their own motives you see. 

But the parents, they threw the ball - I threw back - and they took it and ran fast - now armed with knowledge to save their children from abusive mandates which left their children feeling frightened, alone, stressed, feeling like failures, often bored, angry, hating school, and more. Parents ran fast once they were awake to the harm being inflicted. They refused the tests for their children and demanded that their children receive a whole and equitable education.

This is why I move fast. When children are being harmed - there is no time to sit and chit chat about the pros and cons of common core, the common core tests,  or the bill that was whittled down to nothing in the last legislative session and how we might better reach the legislators next year.  When it is necessary to protect children, we must take immediate and quick action to stop the harm. Opt out does this. This is also why I ignore the folks who tell me "how" I should talk to legislators, or anyone for that matter who is in charge. I will not be "told" how to talk to anyone. 

Did anyone bother to tell those legislators in the past legislative session - you know that day - where I testified on my day off from school - when I shared stories of children who suffered at the hands of high stakes testing - when I spoke as the legislators came and went out the door to make deals - never asking a single question and making sure to cut me off when my time was up - did anyone bother to tell those legislators how to talk to me? No? Oh - that's right - I am just a teacher and a female to boot. That's right. So - I don't waste my time with them anymore.

I have to move fast during this window of opportunity when we are making gains in our ability to protect children and give them every opportunity to question, explore and develop their strengths and their ability to problem solve in this crazy world.  I will handle those legislators in the voting booth. I know that the clearest way to get the public to respect educators is to get those legislators OUT of office and get in legislators who care about the common good, more than their political status or ego.

So, I don't play ball with just anybody. And while I move fast - I always keep the end goal in mind. The end goal is not to "win" - but rather, to do what is right, just and good for all children. While winning is a brief victory to celebrate - it means little if the "opt out" win is not followed by a clear path to achieve what all children deserve. I have found that "opt out" is a breath of fresh air for newcomers to activism - it is liberating, empowering and can help define who we are and what we believe. Be clear in what you believe if and when the "opt out" victory occurs. It's a brief victory followed by hard work - and not everyone who opts out has the same end goal in mind. Make sure the children get what they deserve.

It is my belief that "opt out" presents an opportunity to make what has always been possible for our public schools a reality. It is more than just ending high stakes testing. It involves rethinking the role of teachers, students and the public school system as a whole. We, at United Opt Out National, demand the following: 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. I believe in this statement - my eye is on this ball. And I know that opting out of high stakes testing is the key to getting there. 

Because I have been so busy catching balls this year, I have had little time to blog - and writing is one of my greatest passions.  As you catch that ball, remember to hand it over to fellow activists from time to time and walk away to attend to your own needs. Do the things you love and remember - things you use to do frequently in those days before you were awake and realized what was surrounding and destroying our world. Those things you love still exist and are necessary to your well-being if you are to continue to stay alert, well rested, and with a game plan as we move forward.

I am keeping it very simple for the 2014-2015 school year. I have seen the chaos.  I have been knocked down many times. And as a result,  I have been given the opportunity to see what works and what doesn't work.  I get that we all have a role to play, so I am not knocking anyone who chooses a different route. But I'll just say this, refuse the mandates that have been imposed on our children in the form of opt out and watch those legislators wake up. Refuse all the tests - not just one - all of them. Watch the politicians listen with intent this time - watch them ask questions to find out how they might meet YOUR needs.  Refuse the mandates that those union leaders agreed to as they took corporate money - and watch them sway where the power lies - and the power lies with the masses when they opt out of these tests. The power lies in the new leadership we will bring to the forefront as we expose those who negotiate with children's lives. The power lies in our own ability to recognize what is just and good and as we refuse the pitfalls that come with ego driven - power hungry - profit mongering individuals who think of themselves first and children last - if  at all.  Work towards opt out through your union, your parent group, your neighborhood - however you can get there, educate and encourage folks to take action. 

Be aware that withdrawing from common core and/or common core tests does not mean that your state is withdrawing from lockstep standards and/or high stakes testing.  Common core and high stakes testing can take many new names, shapes and forms. Be ready to refuse the clones that arrive.

We don't have a lot of time. We have limited time - but the window is ours right now.  They need the data NOW to get the profit ball rolling at a steady pace. They will do anything necessary to save the common core in order to get the data which will create the profit and allow more data to be crunched, in order to further manage and control children, teachers, and ultimately an entire nation (I won't go into their global goals but believe me - their plan is all encompassing).They've got a taste of what could be theirs - and they are hungry - and they'll pretend to care by agreeing to all sorts of strategies to appease us - as long as the end goal remains the same for them. 

My focus this coming school year - with any individuals I work with - will be clearly geared towards the opt out home run. But, when we win this victory, make no mistake - and I mean this clearly directed to those who troll my site - we know exactly where we are headed and you will not stand in our way.  Opt out is just the beginning - so get ready, sit in the stands and watch - because in this game, you are a spectator - and you are in the nosebleed section. 

Power to all of you who will do what is just, right and kind for children in 2014-2015. 

Opt out and deny them their money, their power. 

Run fast to protect the children who are suffering  - and be ready to advocate for what they deserve when the power structure comes toppling down. 

This is about the children. Those of us who do not need power or ego have truth and heart on our side. And we are fierce in our strategy and our ability to protect children. 

Eye on the ball. Catch. Throw. And watch what happens.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Charade of Prompt Writing

A quick thought I posted on FB:

Most writing in today's schools is prompt writing. This is typically worthless writing because the student had no input in the topic, etc. Prompt after prompt after prompt wears on a child's soul.

And when students aren't engaged, the student work you are looking at is WORTHLESS. Without engagement, the student work is not authentic - these writing prompts, etc. do not demonstrate what the child is truly capable of doing. When someone asks me to look at a child's piece of writing, the first thing I ask is - did this child choose the topic? If the child has no ownership in the topic, I already know that the sample is most likely not the child's best work and therefore it is a waste of time to evaluate it.

Yet, we have teachers determining teaching points based on poor writing samples. Therefore, any teaching points created as a result of these evaluations are low level and worthless. What's left? Mediocre teaching that produces mediocre learning that is not engaging and not even close to what the children are capable of. This is what top-down high stakes standards bring us. Mediocrity. Dis-engaged learners. And a bunch of teachers out there running on that hamster wheel keeping busy and quiet just like they want us to be - while the walls crumble down around us. Such a flipping charade. All of it.

So - parents - rule #1 - when your child brings home a piece of writing - ask them - did they choose that topic? And if not, is there any purpose whatsoever to the writing? Expose the charade.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

NBI #10 at CEA: Withdraw from PARCC

I spoke at the CEA Delegate Assembly twice this weekend. My second time was for NBI #10 Withdraw from PARCC. I was very nervous. The entire delegate assembly protocol is new to me and I jumped in - trying to do my part and become a union member who advocates for children and helps to create change which will allow us to reclaim our public schools and our profession. Here is what I said. Someone came up to me and asked me to write it up and share it so I am doing so. Feel free to use it however it might help you. The best news is this - NBI #10 passed. Here is the final version: CEA shall join in coalition with other organizations demanding the withdrawal of Colorado from the PARCC assessment and placing a moratorium on high stakes standardized tests. 

 Solidarity to all of you.

My comments in favor of NBI #10 Withdraw from PARCC

My name is Peggy Robertson. Aurora/Littleton Uniserve. Speaking as an individual. I am in favor of this NBI. There was a lot of talk here yesterday about teachers being harmed - about students and school communities being harmed. The pain we feel now is nothing compared to the pain headed our way via PARCC. This is why I do what I do at United Opt Out - because I recognize that when the common core tests arrive - public education is a sinking ship.  I give it ten years.

PARCC will put us on the fast track to privatization.  This is not just one more test.  There is no evidence that shows that PARCC, or any standardized test for that matter, increases student achievement. The PARCC is designed to assess standards that were never field tested, are developmentally inappropriate and are funded by the corporations for the corporations.  PARCC will cost our country billions of dollars all funneled to the corporations.

The state budget in Colorado shows 16.8 million for the PARCC - that doesn't include the technology for the online testing. Cherry Creek has already spent 10 million on technology just to be PARCC compliant.  The Lewis Palmer District has already hired 22 people - strictly for tech support related to this testing.

The billions to be made are found in the test, the technology to take the test, the infrastructure for the technology, the updating of the technology, the administration of the tests, the grading of the tests, the cost of lost instructional time and the cost of lost authentic learning. This test is designed to fail students, teachers and school communities. It is designed to confirm the narrative that our schools are failing. It is predicted that Massachusetts is the only state that will do well on the test.

This test will increase test prep, narrowed curriculum and student-technology-time spent solely on preparing to take the test.  It is guaranteed that our neediest children will suffer the most as their schools fail first and are handed over to privatizers. As students fail the PARCC, the floodgates open to a new wave of privatization which will occur at a wicked fast pace.

The harm inflicted on children now will feel like  a walk in the park after PARCC - no pun intended. Charters, vouchers, Teach for America, schools like Carpe Diem (4 teachers, 300 students), brand spankin' new common core curriculum to improve test scores, new common core online learning programs, new test prep - all of these - will rush in to save the day in the name of the almighty dollar.

The PARCC is designed as an anchor to further privatize public education using our children and our school communities to create profit.  Once PARCC is set in place it will be very difficult - if not impossible - to stop the movement to privatize public education, the movement to destroy the teaching profession, destroy school communities, and most devastating - destroy children's lives. Thank you.

UOO to CEA: How Can We Help?

The CEA Delegate Assembly just ended here in Denver. I was a delegate this year. My first time. I met a lot of amazing folks and learned a lot. We attempted to get an NBI passed that stated:

OPT OUT: CEA will work with various parent groups and CDE in clarifying the rights of parents to opt out their children from taking standardized tests. CEA will work with CDE to define the procedures for opting out and will communicate this to parents. Students, teachers, schools, and districts will be held harmless. 

There was a lot of misinformation shared on the floor during debate. I spoke once and signed up to speak again, yet debate was closed before I had a chance to clarify. 

The NBI did not pass. This didn't surprise me. It also doesn't deter me from moving forward. I posted the following on FB that night to clarify some of the misunderstandings shared on the floor:


Opt out DOES NOT count as a zero. Opt out DOES NOT diminish funding in Title 1 schools - funding is typically re-allocated to test prep. Opt out makes it impossible to evaluate teachers because there is NO DATA that can be used to evaluate - if 6% per subgroup refuses the test the data is not valid - CDE must take that into consideration. Opt out does drop us on the performance framework but we are going to DROP ANYWAY due to PARCC. I learned patience in 2013 and I still have it thank god It's all good. The greatest concern from folks was harming teachers and schools - what I wanted to say was that we are already harmed - opt out won't harm us - opt out is our one and only chance to be saved if PARCC indeed stays put next year. PARCC is designed to harm everyone - and it will. It will destroy us. It's always fascinating to me that opt out is still viewed as harmful when the harm surrounds us on every front - slowly strangling us to death. PARCC will devour us next year - not just harm us. Opt out would allow us to wake folks up to the harm. But it's all good. Opt out will proceed full speed ahead with or without NBI #6


However, the deal is this. NEA passed NBI 24 last year that states the following:

NEW BUSINESS ITEM 24

Adopted as amended
NEA shall support the rights of parents/guardians to collaborate with teachers in determining appropriate options for assessment of student proficiency if opting out of standardized assessments, and advocate for their right to do so without retaliation.
Furthermore, NEA shall encourage its state and local affiliates to work alongside student and parent leadership groups in promoting opt out options wherever possible.
Lastly, NEA shall inform its members of current student and parent organization effort through existing communication vehicles.

Cost Implications

This NBI can be accomplished at an additional cost of $2,750.

United Opt Out National reached out to NEA on July 31st, 2013.  We sent an email to all the national staff. We did not receive a response. Read here:



The good news is this. CEA did pass NBI #10 which states: CEA shall join in coalition with other organizations demanding the withdrawal of Colorado from the PARCC assessment and placing a moratorium on high stakes standardized tests.

However, we have to move forward on multiple fronts. If PARCC stays, we need to be prepared to refuse. If PARCC goes, we still need to be prepared to refuse any other high stakes tests, should a moratorium not be set in place.  

I am a CEA member. I am also one of the founders of UOO. The best part of this is that I am right here in Denver. I teach here. I help parents opt out here. So, how can I help? Email me at writepeg@juno.com. Call me at 720-810-5593. I am happy to help in Colorado. Here is the Colorado Opt Out Guide.  Here is the Colorado Push Back Guide I had to create due to the immense bullying tactics used to keep parents from refusing the corporate high stakes tests this year. I recommend that all UOO leaders, students, and parent activists across the country extend a helping hand to your local affiliate. Just because national ignores us doesn't mean this NBI is dead in the water. Bring it back to life. Solidarity.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Colorado and PARCC. What will be left? Just the Students and the Chromebooks


Colorado superintendents have recently become more vocal. They want more local control. They want to be in charge of making financial decisions for their districts. And they need support. They state,  “It can’t be just us. We need parents and teachers and people who care about their communities to let legislators know they’re not willing for their local schools to be run this way,” Glass said.

I am guessing that these superintendents would be even more vocal, and share more information, if we could indeed get the parents and teachers to rally behind them. Dare I say, that some of them might - just might - support opt out? I have always believed that there are a lot of good folks at the top who also would speak out, if only they had the backing to do so. 

The article (see link above) continues by talking about online standardized testing - an unfunded mandate: 

While state lawmakers are keeping the purse strings tight at one end, superintendents claim they’re forcing local school districts to come up with money to pay for unfunded mandates. One of the latest is the state and federal departments of education demanding that standardized testing move online, but providing no money for schools to buy the gear. 

It will cost Eagle County Schools $2 million to buy the Google Chromebooks it will need. If each of Colorado’s 832,368 students get a $312 Google Chromebook, that unfunded mandate will cost schools statewide $259,698,816. 

260 million. Yes, you heard that right. 

My own district is purchasing Chromebooks.  I do wonder about the details of this purchase - what will it cost? How long will they last?   

I decided to dig a bit more into Chromebooks and their costs. I came across another article where it states: The price of the Chromebook is very attractive, but the potential cost of extra bandwidth, including routers, switches, and servers might prove to be excessively expensive, thus cancelling out the low per device cost. 

So, 260 million for the Chromebooks, which doesn't include all the infrastructure needed to allow the Chromebooks to work.  Hmmm...

I then found another article. This article discussed Chromebook subscriptions ($720), warranties, support services  - how do these additional items weigh into the costs? 

What about the cost of the tests at 30 bucks a pop?  

And, the Chromebook is realistically given a shelf life of 3 to 5 years - so, at that point, in a few years, in order to feed the needs of the test, we buy more Chromebooks? 

Right? 

Susan Ohanian and Stephen Krashen discuss the testing technology expenses for New York: If the New York figure is extrapolated to the entire country, the cost to connect all children to the internet will be at least 50 times the cost of connecting New York City alone, or $25 billion (New York City enrolls one million students, the USA as a whole, over 60 million). This is only to connect students to the internet. The whistles and bells needed to do "computer adaptive testing" with audio and video will cost more. 

Of course, in 3 to 5 years, if this corporate plan continues on full speed, it is doubtful that there will be much left of public schools.  Um, but that's the plan, right?  Cash in while you can, right? What will be left?

Just the students and the Chromebooks (obsolete by then of course). 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tom Poetter 4 Congress Ohio District 8: Letter to Educators


Dear Educators,  


Many of you know that I have been an educator for 25 years.  I have taught high school in public and private settings, worked as a teacher educator in higher education settings, authored many articles and books on education, teaching, learning, and curriculum, and served as a public school partner.  I attended public schools, and sent my own children to public schools.  My sons will both attend one of the best public universities in the country next year. You can and should call me a public school advocate with broad experience in the American educational system.

I am writing today to share my candidacy for Congress in Ohio District 8. Speaker of the House Boehner will not run unopposed in 2014.

John Boehner speaks the language of corporate education reform. His position on private charter schools discussed  in a Fox News Editorial on 1/22/14 reflects what I know and what millions of Americans -- and especially millions of American educators -- know about the privatization of public education: it doesn't work, and it threatens democracy.  In fact, the discrediting of public schools, the bashing of teachers and putting even greater constrictions on their work, the threatening of their professional and labor rights, and the siphoning of public money into private hands have led us to a brink in education, the kind that makes the Speaker's vision of a private education landscape even possible.

John Boehner believes that "school choice" works. You and I both know that school choice simply means choice for a few, neglect for the majority, and immense profit for the corporations.

As I and many others have been predicting, we see the signs of a private, corporate takeover coming to pass that will destroy the democratizing function of public education, that is the political connection that citizens have to making decisions about their public schools, and the end of any resemblance of local control over the school program and the expenditures of funds for students.  And, of course, an end result will be that our students will be no better off, learn far less, be less ready for college and work, and not be ready to act as citizens.

We need students who can problem solve and think in order to reclaim our democracy.

Another end result of all of this movement will be to line the pockets of corporate education executives and to weaken an education system that still, despite the odds, produces strong citizens and students.  All of the most important hallmarks of public education are eroding, or being taken away by corporate raiders who want to control what our students learn, how they learn it, and how they pay themselves to takeover schools and the education system.

When the citizens of Ohio's District 8 send me to Washington in November, I will work as hard as I can to turn back further attempts to privatize schools, work to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, its last iteration known as No Child Left Behind, and we know how that worked out!) so that we can move past the damages done to schools, teachers, and students who have seen their public schools become test factories and their teachers reduced to robots reading from a script, and lead a watch dog group that demands equal accountability for the use of taxpayer dollars wrapped up in inferior, substandard educational settings that are funded by taxpayer money but are not nearly as good as our public schools.  Our families and communities, children and teachers, deserve great schools.  They don't get the great schools everyone deserves, in every neighborhood across our cities, suburbs, and rural areas, because politics and the promise of private economic gain from education have trumped what we know about schools and citizens: our first priority should be to support and build strong public schools, not tear them down.

Teachers, parents, students and citizens, I am asking for your help. I need to spread the word of my candidacy via social media. It's essential that we get the word out to folks who understand the education issues at stake in this election.  The majority of the population has received minimal information regarding the truth about the Race to the Top policies that are swiftly privatizing our public education system. We need more educators in Washington fighting the good fight in order to reclaim our public schools and improve them to ensure that all children receive a whole and equitable education.  I am ready to take on that fight with the children in mind - that is my focus - that is my end goal.

Please tweet, Facebook, email and share the news of my candidacy for Congress Ohio District 8. Repost this letter on your blogs. Please "like" my Facebook page at Tom Poetter for Congress Ohio District 8  and share articles as we post them. Nationally, we must work together to take down the corporate machine. I am ready to get to work.

Thank you for your support,
Tom

For more information:

Tom Poetter on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Poetter4House 
Tom Poetter's Response to John Boehner's editorial on school choice links below:


Find Tom's earlier Facebook response and comments at this link:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tom-Poetter-4-Congress-Ohio-District-8/355342981278106

Tom Poetter of Oxford, Ohio, is a professor of education at Miami University, and the author of over 50 articles/book chapters and 14 books on education.  He has participated in the first two United Opt Out National events in Washington, DC.  He is a Democratic candidate for the Ohio District 8 seat currently held by John Boehner.