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

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Littleton High School Gives Elective Credits for Proficiency on PARCC. Who Will Be the Winners? Losers?

Sharing my correspondence re: my son's high school's plan to give elective credits for proficient PARCC scores. ELL students, children of poverty, special needs children, children with anxiety and other emotional stresses, children who are talented in ways that cannot be measured on a high stakes standardized tests, all lose. Again. 

Date: Wed, 4 Mar 2015 19:28:55 GMT

Hi -----,
Is PARCC participation and/or results going to be used to make any student decisions - such as rewards, extra credit, part of final grade for a class, credit towards graduation, counted towards homework or a final exam,  etc?

Thanks.

Best,

Peggy Robertson
www.pegwithpen.com
www.unitedoptout.com


Date: Thu, 5 Mar 2015 16:50:07 -0700
Hello Ms. Robertson,

Thank you for your inquiry.

We do not use the results of PARCC to make any student decisions such as rewards, extra credit, part of a final grade for a class, or count it towards homework or a final exam. However we do offer students one elective credit per grade level 9-11 if the student scores proficient or above on all of the PARCC tests. These tests give us an important picture of the achievement and academic growth of students over time. The results are not only part of the state accountability system, but also guide our school improvement planning. 

Sincerely,
-------

Fri, Mar 06, 2015 08:16 AM

Hi -----------------,

Well, as a teacher of 18 years, I have yet to find any use for any of these high stakes tests. They continue to point to zipcode and continue to say that children, teachers, and schools are failing when in reality, they are not failing, they simply are under resourced (as a community and as a school). In the elementary schools, this testing consumes almost the entire year - especially in schools of high poverty. Sadly, these children, with the greatest need, get tested more than anyone. At my school I have only had four weeks of the school year which have not been interrupted by some form of testing. ACCESS, PARCC, CMAS and the second wave of PARCC consume our year from January to May. Truly, we test the rest of the year. How can this be good for children and why would we reward this - therefore giving it value?

I am wondering if any children of poverty, children with special needs, and /or children with anxiety and other emotional stresses, children who are talented in ways that cannot be measured on a standardized test,  will receive the elective credit?

I teach in Aurora in a school with a high poverty rate where over 40 languages are spoken. We try to fill 180 food bags weekly for these children who have no food to eat over the weekend. I am quite certain what the results of PARCC will say about them - and all of it lies. And considering we are not allowed to look at the test, I can't figure out how in the world such a test could in anyway support me in planning for instruction. And of course the fact that we know it will be racially and culturally biased only adds insult to injury. We know all of this - yet, we continue to feed children tests, while in reality they need food, books, shelter, librarians (What happened to certified librarians? Imagine how many librarians we would have if we quit playing this game that states that these tests are somehow valuable to our instruction?), nurses, counselors, small class size...I could go on forever...

What's most unfortunate about Littleton's use of PARCC is that we know who will and will not benefit re: that elective. Status quo continues. And I think it's important to recognize that PARCC is not yet valid or reliable regardless the spin PARCC puts on that story. Corporate cash on the backs of children - and soon on the backs of teachers under SB191. I shudder to think of the teach to the test mantra that will become an even greater reality next year.

It would be wonderful if Littleton stepped up and refused to be a part of this propaganda.  Why not speak the truth to the parents? Considering the number of opt outs across the country it might be prudent to take a look at what's really going on and re-evaluate giving elective credits for PARCC. To be honest, it does not reflect well on Littleton High School. As principals, teachers and superintendents across the country speak up against this high stakes testing - which is truly educational malpractice, I'd love to know that my son's school was on the right side of history regarding this issue. Many thanks for all you do for Sam. He loves Littleton High School and all of his teachers. 

Thanks for letting me know and much appreciation for your honesty.

Best, 

Peggy Robertson







Saturday, March 7, 2015

Regaining our Humanity and Co-optation

www.unitedoptout.com 
Right now across the country there are students, teachers, parents, and community members rising up in an act of civil disobedience, stating their proclamation to reclaim public education by refusing to be servants to the corporations and the federal mandates which attempt to destroy our schools, and ultimately our democracy.  We are refusing the tests.

As we rise up and feel our own power - our power to restore dignity to our teaching profession, our power to give children what they all deserve, our power to be truthful, good and kind to our school communities, and shed our skin of the horrible mandates which have attempted to pit all of us against one another, we should recognize our ability to change the world,  and indeed embrace it, and one another. We can regain our humanity; it takes immense, hard, back-breaking work, but we can do it, and we must harness that power and success, and feel it. It feels good to be human and no longer a serf fulfilling mandates that harm our country. When you regain that feeling, take stock - pause - and create a space in your memory to bring that feeling back - we must not forget what it feels like to truly be human in a country that is founded on democratic values.

However, as we see success surround us, that doesn't mean our work is done. Our work right now is based on a solid foundation of civil disobedience. Our ability to refuse tests gives us such immense power that we literally may take down the common core national tests this year.  But there are other forces at play right now that could attempt to stop us by co-opting the Opt Out Movement.

What is co-optation?

Movements can also decline, if their organizations are highly dependent on centralized authority or on charismatic leadership, through co-optation. Co-optation occurs when movement leaders come to associate with authorities or movement targets more than with the social movement constituents. For example, a leader could be asked to work for the organization that is the target of a movement with offers of being able to change things from the inside. Instead they themselves become integrated into the organization and take on its values, rather than the social movement’s values. Leaders could also be paid off by authorities or target groups who ask them to redirect their activities in exchange. See more here.

Co-optation is occurring right now in multiple ways. 

For example, ECS recently came out with an "opt out" document. The Education Commission of the States created this document to let folks know the legalities around opt out. This document is now being shared in tweets, on FB, as well as in articles by educational groups and individuals.  This document allows folks to jump on the Opt Out Bandwagon, while defeating the main reason we have been successful as a social movement. We are successful because we recognize opt out as an act of civil disobedience. When folks share this document, while ignoring the social movement constituents - we are looking at a co-optation. Why share this document when local grassroots Opt Out movements are going strong across the country -  why not share information from the local and national grassroots groups versus ECS, who now gives the appearance of being an authority on opt out? This is a clear attempt to creep into our territory, co-opt it, and water down our message and our intent.

This is what ECS has to say about themselves:

What sets us apart
  • We don't take sides. We're not an advocacy organization.
  • We are non-partisan. By law, our chair alternates between Democratic and Republican governors every two years. We provide a platform for meaningful dialogue wherever you stand.
  • We cover the P-20 spectrum. We work with policymakers, researchers and practitioners at all levels of education, from pre-K to postsecondary and beyond.
  • We cross silos in governance. ECS is the only state-focused national organization to bring together governors, state legislators, K-12 and higher education department chiefs and other education leaders.
I would recommend that everyone check out their website. However, the above blurb may be enough to enlighten you. But you know what, just for kicks- would you check out their funders? Be sure you are sitting down when you do - head to page 21 and breathe deeply. 

So, as folks muddy the waters for opt out and share this document that is funded by those whose names my fingers are unable to type for fear of breaking my keyboard (which is why you have to go look at the above link yourself - I can't afford a new computer), we must understand clearly what is going on. And we cannot, I repeat, cannot, allow this social movement to be co-opted. If you see this ECS document anywhere - call it out for what it is - an attempt to co-opt a social movement that truly has the momentum to save our public schools, therefore our democracy.

As Tim Slekar, my dear friend, who is also a UOO founder, states:

Opt Out is not an anti-testing movement. It is a deliberate action! It is a movement to restore the civic mission of American public schools - providing a foundational education for all children in critical participatory democracy. It is a deliberate act of conscience - an act of civil disobedience that targets the coveted data produced by high stakes tests. Simply, it is a movement to end the dismantling of public schools.

We cannot allow opt out to be co-opted by groups who suddenly have the time and money to research all 50 states and report the legal mumbo jumbo while denying the public the true intent behind opt out - we don't need their legal mumbo jumbo in order to opt out. And, didn't we at UOO already do that research, for free? We have always viewed our opt out guides as a starting point, but ultimately opt out has always been an act of civil disobedience. The guides simply create a base, and then we move forward with action.

ECS is funded by those who wish to privatize - did you see the funders? Is your heart racing? 

Breathe.

This is the deal - we are not worried about opt out being legal or not - and we cannot allow such documents to water down the higher intent of opt out. We should also recognize that any such documents that suddenly appear in the midst of this revolution are appearing because we are gaining power and they know it. They didn't bother to research this before because we were not a threat. 

Now, we are. Feel your power as you regain your humanity. But again, there's more.

Let's take this a step further and consider another potential co-optation. Right now folks are working hard to pass opt out bills across the nation - I myself have assisted in such endeavors in the past. But, as I have been watching our progress this year I have reconsidered my stance on opt out bills. I'll admit, I was never a big fan of them as I felt that such bills were a bandaid, but now, I am gravely concerned about how these bills might impact our social movement. Number one - an opt out bill means it is no longer an act of civil disobedience; opt out becomes legal.  If opt out is legal, where is our power?  And if we push for an opt out bill, what do we sacrifice as a result? I fear that opt out bills could cause our power to diminish and create a sense of a small win, when in reality, it could be a monumental loss.

To get to the heart of the issue I must ask these questions:

Do we simply want to opt out of the tests OR do we want to demand that our schools are equitably funded, democratic, anti-racist, desegregated, filled with wrap around services, art, music, PE, counselors, nurses, librarians, libraries, while being developmentally appropriate as our schools prepare students to exercise compassion and critical decision making with civic virtue? What do we want? And why would we settle for less for our children? We must be clear about why we opt out.

Some will say to me, we must start somewhere and we must chip away at this, therefore an opt out bill is a win. I am not sure I agree. So, just food for thought. I know there is much controversy around this topic, but I had to put my thoughts out there in the context of a co-optation. 

I'm going to push a bit more as we think about co-optation. If suddenly everyone agrees with us and believes these tests are horrible, and states it loud and clear, what next? I mean, sheesh, everywhere we turn there is sympathy for our plight - bless their hearts they care....or do they? Do they really care about us regaining our humanity? Is that why Wired magazine says Standardized Tests Suck. But the Fix is More Data, Not Less. I mean...Wired loves Bill Gates, right? Opt out could become the cool thing to do.....let's think about how cool that might be, because we all agree these tests suck, right?

Well, if standardized testing sucks, and we need more data, not less, I'd say this is the time to usher in corporate formative testing and more online curriculum.  Heck - the more data the merrier - let's pile it on folks as we continue to increase the profits in the testing industry, where the increase has been a measly 57% in the last three years. We can do better than that!!!!  And if formative testing and curriculum are all tied to the report card grades, how will one opt out of it? Well, there's no need to! Opt out is gone! Because standardized testing sucks! We were so cool that they joined us and helped us take the common core national tests down. Thanks Bill Gates.

Beware of folks who are rallying around opt out suddenly and proclaiming that testing sucks without considering first : Why do they rally now? What is their intent? And what might they possible have to gain personally, or as a group or organization?

How might co-optation benefit them?  

Because let's face facts, those of us in this for the right reasons don't have the money to get an article in Wired Magazine, nor do we have the power to get folks in high places to retweet our work within one day - as was the case with the ECS report.


We cannot allow this social movement to be co-opted. Embrace opt out as an act of civil disobedience. 

So, again, find that space where you remember what it feels like to be human. I felt it a week ago, and then it disappeared, and I had to grasp to get it back. Find it, remember it, and hold on for dear life. We cannot allow this social movement to be co-opted if we hope to regain our humanity for ourselves and for the future of our country. Solidarity to all of you. 


Friday, February 6, 2015

My response to John Merrow

I do hope you will respond as well. See his latest post here: What a Difference a Dash Makes! 

Well John, as you know, the numbers are much greater than a few hundred. New York had easily 60,000 refuse the test last year and this fall in Colorado we had 5,000 refuse the senior CMAS test. On our general FB group page for United Opt Out we have been adding hundreds a week. On the Indiana page they added 1,000 this past week.
I appreciate your comment about a democratic society – because that is what we, the opt out movement, are attempting to preserve. There will not be a free and democratic society if the privatization of public schools continues, using high stakes tests, which promote fear-based school environments – an environment which teaches solely to the test and is completely void of practices which create a democratic school or classroom.
At my school, we have testing all year (DRA2, MAPS, CMAS, PARCC, BAS, ACCESS, PALS. TSGOLD). I believe I’ve had perhaps two weeks this year in which I wasn’t somehow involved in administering a high stakes test and/or had my schedule interrupted due to a high stakes test. I have refused to administer the PARCC, but of course there will be someone to take my place. In addition we’ve been instructed to have daily PARCC practice. And we are desperately trying to stay true to the goals of a democratic , inquiry-based public school – can you imagine how exhausting it becomes to try to do the right thing, when everyone is asking you to implement curriculum and tests that truly amount to educational malpractice?
We know how to assess. We’re teachers . We have portfolios, report cards and we actually talk to parents. And if everyone is so terribly concerned about how we are doing we also have the NAEP. All of this testing is a distraction from the true issues that plague our public schools – poverty. And of course the learning is most narrow in our high poverty schools where these mandates are used to shut down our schools. I work in a so-called “failing” school (we prefer the term abandoned school). Our children are smart and creative and there are over 40 languages represented in our school . But our children are also hungry. We attempt to fill 180 food bags weekly in the midst of all this madness of teaching to the test and testing which takes us away from the inquiry-based learning that creates engaged, problem-solving students .
So – how big is the movement? It’s big and it’s picking up speed fast. The only way I can quantify it for you is to state that I help parents opt out before work, on my way home from work, and each evening. United Opt out has approximately 70 opt out leaders who support parents in their respective states. In addition, if you ever visit our FB group page you will see immense numbers of comments, questions, and support offered as parents find out how to refuse the tests. Another facet of opt out that is most frightening to the reformers who wish to privatize our public schools is this – when a parent becomes educated around the issues of high stakes testing they find their voice and they become an advocate for public schools and for their children. It’s empowering, and it is grassroots organizing at its best. We build relationships while the reformers continue to tear them down as they destroy public school communities and create policies which fail children and fire teachers. We’ll keep fighting back and we’ll keep growing in numbers – there is something to be said for speaking with truth and heart, John. I watch those who make policy and those who pontificate about public education speak with such arrogance – arrogance backed up by money – and the truth is they know nothing about education. And in a mainly female profession, it does not go unnoticed that many of those who pontificate and create policy are males. It’s time that public school teachers are respected for what we know, based on our education and our experience in the public schools. We will continue to fight back. And those of us who opt out – well, we have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws. And this spring, you can watch it firsthand.
Peggy Robertson, United Opt Out National


Thursday, February 5, 2015

What it Will Take to Win


The one thing I have learned over the past four years is the importance of keeping one's focus. For myself, and those at United Opt Out National, the focus has been strategic and free - simply refusing to take the tests.   Right now we are working on a three-pronged approach - parents refusing to allow their children to test, students refusing to take the tests (typically older students), and finally teachers refusing to administer the test.

Right now I have one fear. I fear for the future of a generation of children living in a country void of democracy.

The harm that has been inflicted is already so great and so extreme, I can't fathom allowing any more harm to come to these children.  Doing nothing  - saying nothing - is like rolling out the red carpet for privatization to occur. So - fight without fear. The fear is what is allowing them to move at such a fast pace to destroy our public schools. I'd rather go down fighting for a win, then stand fearful as they continue to strip away our democracy. 

And we could win. The revolution is in progress.

We are at the tipping point. The question will be - can we work hard enough - and fast enough to increase the momentum for opt out? Can we work hard and stay true to what is honest and in the best interests of all children? I've watched quite a few activists get lost along the way  due to ego, a shot at a career on the dark side or a chance to make a profit in some shape or form.  It can get ugly out there. And as this war on public schools picks up speed it's essential that we do not lose our focus - do not be distracted by compromises or empty debates that ultimately take away all of your time. Time is our precious commodity. I protect mine fiercely.

My focus is simple. There is absolutely no need to make this complicated. The fact that it is so incredibly simple is what frightens them the most. 

No data = no profit. 

Opt out - targeting it through parents, students and teachers is the key. We are making mainstream media these days and that coverage is the spark we needed to push this forward.  As the crowds get bigger - as the stakes grow higher - it will be very easy to get lost. Take your pulse daily and remind yourself of your focus. There are many ways to fight back - but right now - truly - opt out is the golden ticket.  Opt out saves public schools. Every opt out by a teacher, parent or student is a vote for public schools. 

Build relationships and be ready to hold up folks who are tired, bullied and fighting hard against immense pushback. Our greatest challenge is the pushback - will we be ready for this? Do you have your activist crew in place to handle the phone calls, emails, and text messages as folks are told to obey unjust laws? As teachers are told to commit educational malpractice? As children are forced to labor for the corporations and while poverty is ignored?

I plan to keep my message simple.  I opt out/refuse the tests because I have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws. If folks want to know how unjust these laws are - I am happy to provide them with information, stories, and more.

I'm ready.

The next few months quite honestly are everything. Or nothing. The next few months are an open door to save our public schools and our profession. If we do not walk through this door - fearless- and ready to fight - hands joined - then we will be in great danger. The door will not open quite so widely next time. Eventually they will nail it shut.

Now is the time to schedule your opt out meetings - meet at a coffee shop if you can't afford to rent a room. Meet at a house, or a park - whatever works. Canvass your neighborhoods. Use social media to get the word out to #defendchildren as we #optout #refusethetests. 

Understand that right now  - we will get the biggest bang for our time by getting our feet on the ground and talking face to face with those in our communities.  Because we have no money, time is our gold. Use social media to advertise and educate - but then,  meet in person to plan strategy and in order to lift one another up in what will be one of the hardest times in our activist lives.  We will need one another to get through these next few months. Stand strong and stand together.

Solidarity.