Monday, January 19, 2015

Stand Between the Children and Those Who Wish to Harm Them

#UOO15
Recently I wrote a post entitled "It's Time to Break the Rules." I intend to keep my posts over the next few months focused on the common core aligned tests that are now coming to fruition in 2015.  As we reach the tipping point - breaking rules - acts of civil disobedience - are a necessity

At our fourth annual UOO conference this past weekend in Ft. Lauderdale, Barbara Madeloni reminded us of the importance of grassroots organizing as she stated: "Look down here. That's where the vectors of power are."  We must gain our strength and power from the local grassroots movements that surround us.  UOO's FB page has been soaring in numbers over the last six months as the word of opt out continues to spread through the nation. As all of us spread the word of opt out we are increasing the power of the masses  - we can reclaim our democracy, by beginning with the cornerstone of our democracy - our public schools.  No data = no profit.

This weekend, Ira Shor reminded us of the importance of protecting our children.  As an adult it is our job to stand between our children and those who wish to project harm on innocent young minds -  children  -  who come to school to learn, to create and to express themselves in a safe environment which should allow for risk-taking.

I question how we can stand by and watch the danger of high stakes testing mandates permeate our schools, and our children - without standing up for action - without standing between our children and those who wish to project this harm upon them. 

I can promise you  - if anyone dared to harm either one of my boys - I would stand between that harm and my boys - and I would project the greatest amount of power I possessed physically and mentally to stop that harm from touching my children. And I would ask for help from others if need be - and I can promise you - I would win.  As I say this, I must state that I feel the same way about the children within my school.  The time is now for us to harness this power within our schools as we bring together parents, citizens, students and teachers to create strategy to stop the cold and hard cruelty of corporate education reform.

We  must stand between the children and the harmful mandates that are being used to fail them mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Colorado's suicide rate has increased 16.7 percent from 2012 to 2013 alone.  We must question why countries, such as China and Japan, where high stakes testing is rampant, have such high suicide rates.  We must question - what is becoming of our country? And do we care enough to stop it? Or have we been placated by the consumerism that surrounds us? 

The majority of our public school children live in poverty - yet we feed them tests? 

At #UOO15 in Ft. Lauderdale Krashen continued to focus on the need for nutrition, health care and books for our children living in poverty. Krashen asks - does anyone really believe that as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, that test scores will improve?   

Does anyone really believe that this achievement gap is "new" information that could only be gathered via NCLB and RTTT?  We have had the NAEP since 1969 - enough said. And as we test our way to the bottom, our achievement gap continues to tell us the same thing again and again - we have under resourced schools - we have abandoned schools - we have poverty and no equitable funding.

It is time to stand between our children and these unjust laws.  How we choose to take that stand will vary, based on our ability to gain strength from our local unions, based on the support we receive in our individual school buildings, and based on our own fortitude. 

Teachers - the time is now.  As Krashen states, the K-12 budget is 800 billion - most of it is for teacher salary, retirement and benefits - and Bill Gates wants it.  The elimination of the teaching profession is in the works.  We must speak up now.

It is not enough to simply shut the classroom door. It is not acceptable to ignore what is happening around us and walk on by. It is not acceptable to remain uninformed. It is not acceptable to say, "This too shall pass."  We must gather out strength, on the inside and outside - we must use our words, our increasing numbers as we work together, our creativity, and  our fortitude to move forward and stand between our children and those who wish to harm them.

I look forward to the day when I can go to work at my school, knowing that we, as teachers, simply refuse to allow this harm to take place. We refuse to be a part of it. We refuse to allow it. And we stand together with our parents, our children, and our communities as we opt out of high stakes common core aligned testing and as we opt into democracy.  Everything is possible. We simply must harness our own strength. And we must shift our own narrative; as teachers we must take the lead as we inform the public about the wrong-doings of these district, state and federal mandates. 

The power of fear will be weakened as we hold hands.  Fear will be extinguished as we find our voices and we claim the conversation. Fear becomes obsolete when we realize that together - we hold the power.  The time is now.

 Many thanks to all who attended #UOO15 and sent me back to Denver replenished, and ready to fight.  Solidarity. 

The wind at your back.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

It's Time to Break the Rules


I have to be honest. I have never been good at following any rules that harm children or harm anyone in the public schools -  throughout my entire profession as a teacher. As I stand in the midst of my 18th year of teaching, I am amazed by the aggressive force with which the gauntlet is being thrown down across the nation as a threat or challenge to any students, teachers, or parents,who dare not to follow these "rules" or laws, that we know are unjust. We must administer these high stakes tests, force feed them to children, and the children must like them, and persevere with grit and rigor - for the good of our nation.

I am also fascinated by those who believe that a teacher's refusal to administer harmful high stakes tests is an act of insubordination, and THEREFORE (they believe), these teachers deserve to face the consequences and be punished.  Somehow, I have this image of folks throwing rocks at these teachers as the teachers stand in the middle of the circle - folks mocking them and jeering at them - casting stones with glee.

I can't erase that image from my mind for some reason.  Having been in the presence of folks who are such strong "rule followers" - that they would indeed cast the first stone if we lived in another time in history, or perhaps another place; is truly, an eerie, chilling experience.  

I, personally, can't imagine shaking my finger at ANY parent, teacher, or student who wishes to participate in an act of civil disobedience that indeed breaks some rules as a necessity - IN ORDER to protect children and do what is just and right in the name of humanity and in the name of a democracy that has lost its way.

When I think about this as a reality - I really question, what has become of our society? Our democracy?

If we are truly in such a space, a space in which adherence to horrible, cruel, life-destroying rules trumps doing what is right for our children, what indeed, is to become of us?

I'm not sure.

There are folks out there who believe we should simply wait for policies to change - and that we should work patiently with these policy makers.  Okay...I'll do that, while I scrape the paint off the walls in my living room using my finger nails - heck, we've got NOTHING but time, right?

And as PARCC, SBAC, and the other common core tests rear their ugly heads in 2015?  Tick. Tock. Tick Tock.

There are folks out there who are happy to accept the smidgen of cake that will be offered to all of us this year as policies are tweaked in order to appease those who are not "rule followers."

There are also folks out there who are happy to watch the entire public school system come crumbling down as they set their sights on careers, profit and status in the near future.

Finally, many out there are quietly moving forward, not mentioning the fact that the "less tests, better tests, common core stays" mantra is permeating every policy across the nation in order to keep the data mining in place and keep the cash flowing as they privatize public schools. (They don't mind moving at a bit slower pace...the end goal is the same for them.)

Few, if any, are mentioning poverty.

When I do mention poverty, I find that I receive one of the following reactions:

Kudos to you Peg for mentioning poverty (almost like they punched me in the shoulder to show their approval) followed by.....moving on to the next action item.  In one ear...out the other..

Or - they get angry with me. How dare I use poverty as an excuse for children? These children are every bit as capable as children in high income areas!!! That's right - they can do it...on an empty stomach, living in a car, without books, healthcare - they will pull themselves up by their bootstraps and carry on! How dare you presume otherwise, Peg? 

Or, finally, first they do this *yawn* *brief eye roll, stare at ceiling, then look at clock as though in a terrible hurry *  - and then they say,  yep...nobody's gonna change any policies that create equitable funding and erase childhood poverty this year - what else ya got, Peg? Give us something we can DO something with -  sheesh (as they think...omg would this Pollyana shut up already....)

The most beneficial response I have received from a fellow activist is this (after I bombarded her with questions about why folks ignore poverty - minus of course the obvious ones...  .01% stays in power and we become serfs).  The truth is this, most simply can't fathom what it is like to live in poverty. Therefore, when you describe scenarios to them, it simply doesn't sink into their soul, their toes, and it sure as hell doesn't light a fire under their asses, requiring them to do something to create change.

And sadly, we live in a country grounded in consumerism; a country where folks will stand in line - in the cold - over night - in order to be the first to get the new iPhone. 

We don't need gold stars for mentioning poverty. We need action to protect children from poverty. We need the masses to wake up and defy the slow conditioning that has been used to pull the wool over everyone's eyes, as they have stripped us of our ability to think, make decisions, and act.

And I wonder, how far is "rule following" going to get us this year? 

As we follow the rules to introduce bills in the legislature, as we follow the rules and dutifully give tests which are not proven to be reliable or valid, all within a high stakes testing environment, just how far will this "rule following" get us?

Not far.  

That is why, this is the year for nonviolent civil disobedience, in the name of children everywhere.

This is the year we must stand tall and refuse to allow the policy makers to believe that they have indeed appeased us - just enough - in order for them to continue to move forward with their corporate ed. reform agenda, simply using new strategies and a bit of a longer timeline.  

(Seriously read the Zimba piece in NPR if you want to see their newest strategy...Zimba is JUST as frustrated as we are by the rollout of common core..he's so frustrated that he has no choice but to create CC curriculum for our schools! I mean..sheesh....he's just a guy trying to help his daughter with math on Saturday mornings!)

The arrogance is forever astounding. We are surrounded by it at all levels of this game.

It is time to break the rules. 

Nonviolent civil disobedience is necessary if we hope to save public schools and if we hope to halt the harm that is currently occurring to our children across the nation, as they are required to take high stakes tests which harm students, teachers, schools and communities.  

Parents must refuse high stakes tests in mass.  Teachers who are able, must refuse to administer the tests. Student activists must educate other students and share with them the knowledge necessary to determine if they indeed #choosetorefuse. Citizens everywhere must stand up and help our communities fight back.

For those rule followers who stand ready to cast the first stone in the form of firing teachers, bullying children who come to school with opt out/refusal letters, and more - drop your stone in this crumbling democracy and stand with us  - as we fight back. And as we win.  




Saturday, November 15, 2014

Test Scores = Zipcode

The Colorado social studies and science CMAS has been a true wake up call for the citizens of Colorado. I want to share this Colorado story as an example of what will be replicated all over the country this spring as PARCC and SBAC take hold. We have already seen it happen in other states - it pretty much goes like this. The test results come back and the majority (70 to 80%) of the students fail the test. The community and the media come forward with all sorts of possible explanations of why the scores are bad.

Jeannie  Kaplan, former Denver school board member, and a person I respect greatly,  wrote a blog sharing her thoughts on the dismal CMAS scores for 4th, 5th,7th, and 8th grade. 

As she reviews the scores she asks, "Why would you say Social Studies has been a long-ignored subject in Colorado public schools? If you answered, “because Social Studies has NOT been tested,” you would be correct. Which is pretty empirical evidence that our public schools are turning into test prep institutions, rather than incubators of curiosity and developers of life long learning. If the subject isn’t tested, educators are not allowed to teach it, even if it is truly important in preparing one not just for college and career readiness but for life readiness as well. How can we expect our students to be productive citizens if they don’t know and appreciate the history, socio-economics, geography, language, and cultures of the world’s population?"

She states,  ".......if you are not allowed to teach the subject, children in any kind of school will not learn the subject. And if you can’t speak, read and write English with fluency, you most likely won’t do well on a test in English."

I agree with her on many things, but I want to share several thoughts.

First - we knew what the results of the social studies and science CMAS test would be BEFORE the results came back, so spending time examining them only tells us what we already knew. So, it's really very cut and dry. They set the cut scores at around 70% for science and around 80% for social studies, therefore, we knew that only 20 to 30% of students would be successful on the test, and therefore, that's what happened.  And, if they were successful we could assume that they were typically from neighborhoods with high real estate value and/or at charter schools where students are kicked out and they only keep those with high test scores.

Standardized test scores will always tell us zipcode, and therefore, I ask - why do we keep examining them - which gives them value and power?

Chris Tienken has done extensive research on standardized tests. He states, " It goes without saying that there is over 100 years of evidence that demonstrates that commercially prepared standardized tests are influenced too much by out-of-school factors to provide important results. The results we receive tell us more about the child’s home life and neighborhood than what he or she is capable of as a human being. Colleagues and I have spent the last several years using US Census Data to PREDICT the test results on every NJ mathematics and language arts test in most grade levels administered since 2010. We just completed the same research in Connecticut. We have been able to predict the percentage of students scoring proficient or above in a majority of the school districts in NJ and CT using only community and family census data (Tienken, 2014)."

Once again, what do we find out from these scores? Zipcode.

He also states,  "The teacher is still the best assessment tool because classroom assessments are formative (immediate) in nature, and over time they provide a cumulative, running record of achievement that is more reliable than any standardized test. Maybe that is why high school GPA is a better predictor of first-year college success and overall college persistence than the SAT when controlling for wealth characteristics of the students (Atkinson & Geiser, 2009).

Jeannie Kaplan states that teachers are unable to teach social studies and science because only subjects which will be tested are taught, and as a result, social studies and science CMAS scores are low.  

I agree with Jeannie that the subjects tested are the main focus for instruction - I do not agree that CMAS scores are low because they were not taught. 

If that were the case - then why were my school's scores low, not only in social studies and science, but also in math and language arts?  Does that mean our teachers taught nothing?

No. Once again, it tells us zipcode.

And let me share a bit more here.   The teachers at my school last year DID teach social studies and science.   When we simply look at test scores and analyze them, rather than talking to teachers, we get very little information about what is going on in a school.  Why don't people ask teachers instead of wasting their time typing up and analyzing these pointless test scores?

Back to my school and what we taught last year.....

I am the literacy coach at my school so I spend time in all of the teachers' classrooms. I co-teach, model, work with groups of children, and I get to watch teachers create and implement lessons with such skill and nuance, that only an experienced educator could truly see and understand all that is happening - much like watching a surgeon with only the experience of having surgery, versus observing as another experienced surgeon.  I say this, because it's important that citizens understand and respect the skill of our teachers - and especially, respect the skill of teachers who are working in high poverty, under resourced schools. 

Last year, I saw teachers at our school support children in creating amazing Colorado history projects. I watched the younger grades learn about community.  I saw the fifth grade learn all about economics and prepare and attend a field trip at Ameritowne where they - for a day - become a community, with a mayor and with jobs in which they buy and sell products and learn about business and economy.  I saw teachers and students delve into amazing inquiries around insects, endangered species, plants, crustaceans, and more.  I saw the upper grades fold historical fiction into history lessons to support the students in seeing the relevance of these historical facts.

Yet, my district, Aurora, had the worst scores, in the top ten largest districts, on CMAS social studies and science for 4, 5, 7 and 8th grade.

And, not only that, my school's scores in math and language arts placed my school back in turnaround status for the second time.  

Again, does that mean we didn't teach math and language arts too?

No.  But it does indeed tell us, once again, zipcode.   Approximately 70% of the students in Aurora Public Schools receive free or reduced lunch.  Our students come from more than 132 countries and speak over 133 languages.

Let me share my school's story a bit more...and forgive me if my anger comes out a bit in this next thread.

We are a turnaround school as a result of our low test scores. We are considered a failing school. And that means that when I go to professional development opportunities, I am viewed as a literacy coach in a failing school - the implication being, I have failed my school.  It also means  that parents get a letter that tells them our school is in turnaround status and the implication being, that we are failing their children.

It also  means that you get scrutinized and emotionally stripped naked by folks from all over the state who want to figure out WHY you are failing. If you're really unlucky, your school gets audited by absolute strangers who interrogate you one on one and in small groups, asking questions in an effort to reveal any deep dark secrets which might EXPLAIN WHY we have failing test scores. They ask you questions which might pit staff against staff. They want to know who gets along and who doesn't. They want to know if you LIKE your colleagues and/or your principal. And they say with a smile, that they are here to help.  These auditors spend a few days in your building, going where they want, when they want, and they write down pages and pages of information about you and they tell you that this will HELP you. You might discover that the person observing you teaching has only one year teaching experience, as she smiles and jots down notes that will be added to the audit. They leave, after a few days, with their secrets on reams of paper and write a report on potential recommendations to "turnaround" your school.  When they finish interrogating you, you might find that you are shaking and suddenly in tears - as though you have been violated and you aren't really sure what. just. happened.  You might find that the rest of the day you can't talk without feeling a lump in your throat rise to the surface or perhaps the hair on the back of your neck stands up as you think about what you'd really like to say to these auditors who pose as "helpers." 

And when you get the report, you may find it filled with words like grit, perseverance, and college and career ready - and you will find it void of any recommendations to protect your children from poverty - all at the tune of around $30,000 for the audit. And you might be angry. You might want to scream and lash out at every person who continues to give these test scores VALUE. Because you know why the auditors are there - one reason - low test scores. This is the reality for those of us in turnaround. 

So, back to these low test scores and poverty, and a  few deep breaths on my part.

As we, a turnaround staff in a turnaround school,  attempt to refute the low test scores that everyone and their mother want to analyze, we also scramble to piece together wrap around services for our school . We juggle our current funding, grants, volunteers and more to  attempt to provide food for our 180 families who need weekend food bags. We try to make sure that our homeless children, 36 of them, are safe and not sleeping in cars in below freezing temperatures.  We reach out to the community to find additional services to support our children who suffer from anxiety, PTSD, and other emotional and mental health issues to make sure they are safe and able to function in society - inside and outside of school.  We spend a lot of time running to stop potential crisis in the school - such as children running out of the building, children flipping tables and clearing a whole classroom, children crying, screaming, biting, hitting, all as a result of dealing with outside factors the children are coping with - situations that cause me to shudder when I hear of them - situations of abuse, murder, neglect, desperation, hunger, sickness and more.  We work hard to figure out ways to provide classes for parents.  Our parents care. They love their children. They love our school.
  
Poverty is expensive. And the system is set up to take advantage of them, of us.

We also organize partnerships with community businesses to stock our parent center with food and clothing.  We open our library to the public and we find grants to create a preschool center and parent library within our school library. We seek out resources to add a playground and flowers so that our school is beautiful - on the inside and outside. We want our children and our families to be proud of our school and the learners and teachers who learn, problem solve and create solutions and new ideas on a daily basis, as we develop learners who will be productive problem solving citizens. When the weather turns cold we make sure that every child has a hat, coat and mittens.

As we try to do all this, we must also prove that we will get better test scores - this part is very important. You must have a good explanation and plan to get out of turnaround or they will make a plan for you.  If they make a plan for you, it's guaranteed you won't be in it and the children will find themselves faced with a school disrupted -a  school filled with strangers and a school stripped of its culture and its way of life. A school where only test scores matter; a school where they will feed them only tests.

And all this time folks in the media - mainstream AND social media -  keep analyzing test scores. All this time folks keep spending time, words, and energy to keep the focus on the test scores. Meanwhile we, inside the school, look at the poverty, the large class size, the need for more books, the need for more teachers, and we know what we need to do and we know how to do it, but we are under resourced and so we do the best we can to piece meal together a plan, hopefully get us out of turnaround status, while also creating our own personal plan to protect our children from poverty (and there is no funding for protecting children from poverty).

We watch the district usher in new social studies and new science curriculum. We are not surprised when we see that the curriculum is written by Pearson, who also wrote the CMAS social studies and science test. And we are not surprised when items from the test appear directly in the curriculum. 

We continue to give test after test after test while folks continue to debate what these test scores mean. We don't bother to waste any time looking at the test scores  ourselves - other than what we are required to do - and we try to focus our energy on supporting our students to thrive and learn.

Yet, as I look back on this year so far, I can say that there have only been two weeks out of this year in which I have been able to focus 100% on the needs of the learners. Every other week has been filled with some sort of required testing.

I am tired, so tired of leaders discussing the test scores. The scores that do not inform my instruction. The scores that continue to tell us that many of our children live in poverty.

And to be quite honest, having the time and energy to analyze test scores is a privilege - while they continue to feed the students at my school tests, and while we continue to struggle to protect them from poverty.

I ask this - as a teacher in a high poverty school where we DID teach math, literacy, science, social studies, art, music, PE, social skills, library skills and more - and we still have low test scores - I ask - please, quit discussing these scores. Come and talk to us and we will tell you what we need.  We don't need outsiders analyzing our scores and deciding what those scores mean for our school.

Ask us what we need.   And I can promise you, these standardized tests will not be on our list.  

Here in Colorado the last two weeks seniors from affluent communities have opted out/refused to take the senior CMAS test. They have varying reasons for doing so, and I applaud all of them for refusing to take the tests. But, I watch with sadness as we hear nothing about our students in the high poverty schools refusing to take the tests. Perhaps we'll hear  more on this later, but as for now, it appears the seniors in my district took the test. It appears that the seniors in Denver did as well.

And I ask this of Jeannie Kaplan, and all leaders in districts of high poverty - why are we analyzing the scores when we realize they simply tell us zipcode? Why aren't leaders in these communities supporting parents, teachers, and students in understanding that these scores mean nothing? Why aren't  leaders supporting opt out/refusal of tests? Why did students in Aurora and Denver have to comply and take this waste of a test while the high school students in Boulder refused to do so?

I received a video from a high school in Denver in which they told the seniors they would have prizes for them if they took the test - prizes ranging from coffee mugs, clothing, gift cards, restaurant cards, up to 40 prizes so far she said! The woman speaking says to the seniors, "It's going to be worth your while." Are you kidding me??? The insults are so great I can't even go into it.

Why are we denying certain communities the information they need to determine how they might reclaim their public schools? How they might reclaim their education? How teachers might reclaim their ability to actually teach? 

If we aren't telling them this, then we are a part of the machine that continues to propagate the false narrative that these scores mean something and that these schools are failing.

The seniors who refused CMAS know that by denying them the data, this test may very well go away. Big picture, it may change policy.

As an excellent teacher, teaching in an amazing school with expert teachers and brilliant children, while scrambling on a day to day basis to protect the children from poverty, and at the same time keep the corporate reforms OUT of the school, I must tell you, I am angry that anyone is giving any air time to these test scores. 

Zipcode.  One word.  Now let's do something about it.

Refuse the tests, demand that the money be funneled to our neediest schools and let's watch what happens.  Just as we can predict zipcode via test scores, I can predict what will happen when these children are protected from poverty.  Just watch us.  

With great respect, I ask that we begin to educate the public. No data = no profit. Let's return our schools to our communities. Take away their data which predicts only zipcode and which continues the narrative of failing schools. These schools are not failing. They are abandoned.  

Our  students in Aurora are every bit as brilliant as students in Boulder. I demand that society recognize them for their brilliance and I demand that society protect them from poverty.

With great respect, I ask leaders in all communities to educate and act.  

Demand an end to high stakes corporate testing and common core, which together, are privatizing our public schools. Demand sampling, versus testing everyone. Demand that teachers be allowed to assess. Let's deny them the data - support opt out/refusal and force the policy makers to create policies which truly protect children from poverty and create equitable and democratic schools. And let's do this now - before PARCC arrives in the spring, and once again, proves that our schools are failing.  Think about the children in my school. Think about the children in Denver. We have no more time to analyze test scores while they suffer. As a teacher, I have refused to administer the PARCC this year. I continue to support parents in opting out. I know we are at the tipping point, and I know there are leaders out there who can help us tip this in the favor of all children. Let's do it



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Privilege and the Common Good

Privilege = a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.
Common good = the benefit or interests of all.
It is fascinating to watch how the two merge, or do not, as we move forward to reclaim our public schools. There are folks with privilege who opt out, not only just for their children, but for the common good. There are other folks - with privilege - who have made the executive decision, without sharing information with members of the community, that opt out is NOT the way to go for THAT community - and therefore, have denied the community the education to determine what they think about opt out. Finally, there are others who have decided that it's essential that they can compare their test results with test results in other districts to prove that their school system is failing DUE to privatization movements in that district - therefore opt out is not the way to go for their district - the ability to "compare" only comes from those who are in a very privileged position to do so - they still believe these test scores mean something.
And then, there are folks who are just trying to stay under the radar because no one in their district has been harmed yet - these are the folks who only give me an FB  thumbs up on my chicken photos or my family photos...they don't want to be noticed because right now, it's just not in their backyard, and they are okay with just protecting their own and allowing their children to test because the kids get good results and the district looks good, and real estate values stay high. Finally there are districts so harmed, so broken, that opt out is the way to go and they know this and understand it - but the fear, the high stakes and the lack of resources and the lack of support are so great, and the time is so short to figure out HOW to move forward, that folks aren't sure what to do - they aren't sure how to arm themselves ever so quickly with education and tactics to salvage and reclaim.
I watch each of these groups try to move forward, and I just keep thinking - if these groups worked together - for the common good - the truth would be clear - so crystal clear - that we would win. Opt out is a guaranteed win. No data = no profit. Money is the end goal here. Without the data, politicians, unions, chamber of commerce, school boards, EVERYONE would be required to listen - it would smack them in the face - and it would be clear who truly holds the power - WE DO. So, I put this post out to my Colorado friends - and I ask you to consider once again, how opt out - everywhere - will shut this down. And how we can support one another - in Adams 12, Adams 50, Aurora, Cherry Creek,  Denver, Dougco, Jeffco, Littleton, Pueblo, and more - to reclaim our public schools for the common good. Please consider that, as you use your privilege to make decisions, decisions that affect all children, decisions that others without privilege, cannot make.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Let Arne and the Denver Post know that a full revolt is in progress

Please comment on this article Arne Duncan: A test for school tests. Even if you have time for just one line of comment - we must not allow these lies to stand as truth. Thank you everyone.

Here is my comment on the article:

First - we must understand that the call for less testing is simply an appeasement - and a distraction - from the privatization agenda which requires immense testing PLUS the full implementation of the common core standards. The high stakes testing and the common core standards MUST stay in place if corporations wish to continue cashing in on public education to the tune of 800 billion dollars and growing. So, Arne can say whatever he wants to attempt to appease the public but we must understand clearly that the goal is to privatize. And they will happily decrease the testing to appease the public so that they can continue to dismantle the public school system. 

These tests test what matters least. None of these tests support instruction, unless of course your goal is to teach to the test - which requires becoming savvy at multiple choice and formulaic writing. In our public schools the testing never ends. At the elementary school level we are testing weekly in some shape or form. The common core standards, upon which all this testing and curriculum is based, are developmentally inappropriate, not internationally benchmarked and not based on research. The PARCC test, which Arne claims is oh so fabulous, has no peer review research to demonstrate that it is valid. PARCC is an experiment. Experiments require informed consent. There is no parental informed consent for the PARCC experiment, which public school children in Colorado will be subjected to this year. 

The PARCC is already estimated to fail 70% of our children. When CMAS social studies and science scores come out on October 27th, the citizens of Colorado will also see that Colorado's children have failed those tests. Then, watch the corporate reformers say - YES - see??? Our schools are failing! Our children are failing! Our teachers are bad! Watch them add more common core curriculum (Which by the way is nothing but test prep of the worst kind...mundane, boring and requires children to practice for the common core tests day in and day out using all the new fancy technology necessary for these tests.) Watch them fire more teachers because our evaluation will be tied to these tests and since 70% of the children will fail it - well, you do the math. Watch the schools buy more technology in order to increase test scores  and watch the CDE gather more student data because data is the new gold. Watch this data get shared with corporations so they can churn out more products and better manage and monitor our children. 

Watch teachers spend more time getting trained to administer tests versus actual professional development to support teaching. In the last year I have received "professional development" on how to administer TCAP, ACCESS, PALS, and TS Gold and CMAS. I wonder what new tests will be ushered in next year? Oh yes - and I have received "professional development" on new common core curriculum which is scripted - for the day in which teachers will simply be teacher as technician. Look up Carpe Diem schools if you are wondering what that looks like. The end goal is to have very few experienced teachers - that would be dangerous as we know too much. Teacher as data puncher is all that is needed in the privatization agenda. Thinking is dangerous  - we might wake up the masses  - and then the cash flow would end. Teachers must be obedient and follow the rules of the privatization agenda, therefore, making sure that our evaluation is tied to these high stakes tests keeps us silent as we teach to the test. It also pits teacher against child as teachers soon realize that their livelihood depends on the test scores of these children. 

Watch specifically in the urban areas, where children live in poverty and do not have books or computers at home which already puts them at a disadvantage for these online tests. Not to mention that they are hungry, many are sick, and many are tired due to having no consistent place to sleep at night. These children in poverty already suffer from toxic stress which damages the pre-frontal cortex of their brain - add toxic testing and toxic test prep to the mix and the damage increases. Watch these schools get labeled as failing schools - when in truth they are abandoned schools. Watch the reformers come in and hand them over to a charter, fire the staff, and usher in Teach for America folks who have 5 weeks of teacher training. Watch them continue to ignore poverty.

Meanwhile, when teachers do nothing but test and test prep day in and day out, we have no time to actually support the learner. This nonsense about "college and career ready" is so short sighted. What about problem solving citizens?  The common core and high stakes testing together are designed to destroy our public schools. The federal mandates under Race to the Top have opened the door wide to allow corporations to cash in using our children's data . If we hope to stop it, we need to revolt by refusing to allow our children to take these tests. I, personally, have refused to administer the PARCC test. See here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/09/23/colorado-teacher-i-refuse-to-administer-the-parcc-common-core-test-to-my-students/ and I will continue to support parents in refusing these tests - see here: http://unitedoptout.com/ .  If anyone expects politicians, or mainstream media - such as the lovely Denver Post - to listen to anything that speaks to the truth, it will require a full-on revolt from the parents. Starve the beast - no data means no profit - game over. If I can help let me know. My email is writepeg@juno.com and my blog is www.pegwithpen.com 


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Questions from Teachers: How Do We Move Forward?

I am getting many requests from teachers who are privately asking me, how do we move forward to refuse to administer high stakes tests? How do we support opt out? What can we do? How can we resist?

Teachers across this nation are recognizing that we are at the tipping point. It's now or never - which is why I refused to administer the PARCC. I have nothing left to lose - I believe that if we don't fight back now - and fight back hard - our profession will be gone in ten years. But please remember, refusing to administer the PARCC is only one strategy. And it could be a great strategy for retiring teachers or teachers simply willing to take that risk. However, there are many tactics - and each of us have to find what works for us. My blog on Resisting from Within might be useful to my fellow teachers in the trenches. 

Also, our (UOO's) Call for Support from the Unions at our website, www.unitedoptout.com, might be a post that teachers could pass along to their locals. Florida has already taken action - in great contrast to Colorado where CEA discouraged teachers from sharing opt out information directly. All of us here in Colorado will continue to push forward  - you can count on that :)

If you are working in a state in which your local and state are not supporting your efforts to take action to save public schools, I recommend forming a caucus. The caucus we created here in Colorado is an informal caucus, so we are not required to jump through any hoops. See here: co.rave.org. If you are interested in learning more about our caucus and how we created it, please join our FB page and we will be happy to help. 

Next, I recommend finding ways to educate teachers. Educate. Educate. Educate. My local, Aurora Education Association,  asked me to write an article for our last newsletter. Here is the article. Feel free to take it and use it however it might support your efforts: 


This year is a big year for public education.  Our students will be required to take the PARCC test, a test that is predicted to fail 70% of our students.  I have grave concerns about this test and the ultimate harm it will cause for our children, our profession, our schools and our communities. It is clear that this test will increase the speed with which our public schools are being privatized.  PARCC is not just any test – it is a test that was specifically designed to test our national Common Core standards, in order to streamline data efficiently, while allowing profiteers to cash in on the 800 billion dollar K-12 market .

When we look at the big picture - the history behind the Common Core standards, the developmentally inappropriateness of the Common Core standards, the fact that the standards are copyrighted, and finally, the fact that these standards were not created using a democratic process, we must question -whose interests are being met by the implementation of these standards?  We must question this as we watch our schools become immersed in new CC curriculum, testing and technology for testing.

As a teacher, first, I must do no harm. I believe this test will be harmful – and especially harmful to children who live in poverty, children with exceptional needs, children who have anxiety, depression, children who are hungry, sick, and tired.  I believe that it is ethically wrong to administer this test.  As a result, I have refused to administer the PARCC and I will continue to support parents as they refuse to allow their children to take these high stakes tests.  I am thankful to have AEA standing by my side as I take this risk.  It is time to create a larger conversation – as educators  – about what we know is best for children.  We should be leading this conversation.  It is time to take action.

I hope this helps. I felt a need to post this in an effort to respond to the many teacher emails I am receiving. Solidarity to all of you. 

And onward we push,
Peg