Sunday, August 24, 2014

Parents, I Cannot Protect Your Children

I will do my best. But my best isn't good enough - and I think that is the point I really want to make here. 

Across the nation teachers are fighting back hard. Across the nation - actually across the world -  teachers will shut their doors and do their best to protect children from high stakes testing, test prep, nonstop district and state mandated testing and more. But - the truth is this, our best is not good enough, because in order to attempt to do our best we are jumping through hoops, shutting our door to secretly do what is right for children, spending our own money on resources for our classrooms and on supplies for children who have none, and we are spending hours and hours gaming our way through "teach to the test" curriculum and massive amounts of mandated corporate formative and summative assessment - in order to attempt to "do our best."  

So, I'm going to be blunt here. I cannot do my best under these conditions. I can attempt to do my best, but my best under these conditions is not good enough. And my attempts to play the game and resist where I can will not be enough to protect your children from what is happening.

Also - I want to make it clear that by shutting our doors and attempting to do our best, we are able to protect your children a bit more, but shutting our doors and keeping quiet about the harmful practices that have infiltrated our schools is only adding to our problems - if we think long term. Short term, yes - it helps us do what is right for children. Long term, it only promotes a false reality that allows parents to think, it isn't really that bad. Long term, it assists in the dismantling of public education and our profession. Finally, shutting the door doesn't allow teachers to hide from the databases which demand us to enter your child's data on all these assessments. The data mining has begun full force.

So, yes, I'll do my best. I have even refused to administer the common core PARCC assessment this year - I can do that to protect children. But let's be clear on this - even though I have refused to administer the PARCC test, there will be someone there to take my place.

And I cannot protect children from certain non-negotiables within common core curriculum and on-going assessment. We cannot protect the children from the common core professional development which takes us away from our buildings and leaves children with substitute teachers.  As a literacy coach,  I do what I can to rephrase and rid my school of corporate reform language such as rigor, grit, calibrate, accountability, no excuses and college and career ready.  I can even replace these words with language that represents inquiry, heart, relationships, community, equity, creativity and more. But ultimately, all of my attempts are simply band aids.

Even though I have done my best to make writing "on-demand" prompts developmentally appropriate for kindergarten (let's face facts -there is NO such thing), it is still an "on-demand" writing prompt for kindergarten. Even though I will do everything in my power to support children in their inquiries about bugs, outer space, poetry, sports, cooking, their favorite authors, music, art, history and more; I cannot stop the testing train which makes stops in every classroom every week in some shape or form. The classroom is no longer driven by the rhythm of learning, it is driven by the testing schedule which continually interrupts our children's talk and exploration of their interests - the testing schedule extinguishes the passion for learning.  It makes all of us tired with the constant stop. start. stop start. as we try to regroup and get back on track with the real learning that is occurring in the classrooms.  I can't tell you how many "ah ha" moments have been lost for children as they had to break away from their projects, their thinking, their conversation, in order to hunker down over an assessment as they labor for the corporations.

And in the midst of all this testing, we are surrounded by new common core curriculum that is embedded with test prep, scripted lessons and more - and this is what we are doing - we are trying to read through all this curriculum while asking ourselves, "How can we use this curriculum and still do what is best for children?  How can we make the best of this? How can we pull out the good stuff and leave the rest? How can we look like we are being good little soldiers and still do what is right for children?"

Now - as teachers swim through this new common core curriculum, because we are expected to do so, understand that this takes immense amounts of time away from what we should be focusing on - the children.  It takes time to figure out which parts of the curriculum will be non-negotiable and which parts we can skip or substitute what we know is best for children.  So, as I swim through mounds of new common core curriculum in order to "do my best" I simply will not be doing my best because being required to maneuver through such madness in order to TRY to do my best - let's face facts -  is simply not good enough for your children.  They deserve better.  Our attention should be on the children - not the demands of the common core curriculum and high stakes testing.  

I ask this - do you believe that the teachers at Sidwell (school of President Obama's children) are asking these questions and jumping through these hoops? Does anyone believe that Malia and Sasha are faced with the stop. start. stop. start. of continual onslaughts of corporate testing throughout the year?

Of course not. Sidwell students have ample resources and no common core curriculum or testing.  Sidwell teachers are allowed to do their best and focus on the children.

Now, some might say I exaggerate, but I promise, I don't. Test prep and common core curriculum come in many disguises. Publishers and those who write this curriculum are slick at embedding test prep into the curriculum. They are slick at trying to convince teachers and the public that this is good for children. 

Sadly, there are many teachers who do not realize what is happening to their profession or to our public schools. Some still say, "This too shall pass." They think it's just one more new thing that will eventually move along like every new mandate. Some laugh at me and think I am extreme. Heck, my own state and national union supports the common core, while I sit here and watch it dumb down my own school and my son's school every week.  I watch it take autonomy from teachers and turn creative thinking into carefully disguised skill/drill.

The depth of this reform is not always visible to the naked eye - intentionally so.  But for those teachers watching keenly, we have eagle eye vision for these changes - as this is OUR profession - our turf. If I was doing my best, I'd tell every parent every thing I know about these reforms. But if I did that, I'd get fired.

You see, we are not supposed to share with you the developmentally inappropriateness of kindergarten classrooms in our buildings. We also sign agreements that prohibit us from telling you about the child that cried through the entire high stakes test or the child who bit his finger nails to the quick during the test. We are not supposed to tell you that the report cards are a joke and mean nothing. We are not supposed to tell you that your children don't even have to take these tests and that these tests are culturally and racially biased. We are not supposed to tell you that the children are bouncing off the walls because they only get one fifteen minute recess a day. We aren't supposed to tell you that the new "big thing" is brain breaks in order to help your children cope with the fact that they aren't allowed to have more recess. 

We are supposed to make the best of it. We are not supposed to explain that the new curriculum and new chrome books are really here for one reason - to increase performance on the common core tests. We are not supposed to tell you that every year your child is spending more time laboring for the corporations as new tests and test prep get added. There are lots of bells and whistles that disguise the truth of this common core curriculum and testing regime surrounding your children - and we are supposed to do our best and ring those bells and smile when you are around.

If you want to protect your children, you must begin by refusing all the tests. Even as I, a teacher, refuse to administer the PARCC, it will not stop the PARCC from moving forward. My union is not behind me ready to organize and back all the teachers if they were to refuse to administer the PARCC, so I stand alone. And even if my union did organize the teachers to refuse to administer the PARCC test, my union still supports common core - so I still can't protect children and I still can't "do my best" because common core and high stakes testing cannot be decoupled. Believe me - I'll keep working hard at the grassroots level to shift our union, but it won't happen over night. In the meantime, your children are suffering.

Some days I feel like a nurse inside a war tent with wounded soldiers. And no matter how brave I am, no matter how much I stand up to these reforms, it is not enough - they have taken away so much of my power, and my ability to make professional decisions in order to protect children and do what is right for all children.

I teach at a school with 73% free/reduced lunch. Over 40 languages are spoken within my school. I know what our children need - they need wrap around services for poverty, books, librarians, small class size, health care, nurses, counselors, recess, quality food, and the opportunity to express their interests as they talk, read, write, play, sing, dance, create and smile. But you see, that doesn't create corporate profit. Poverty must be ignored in order to keep corporate profit churning.  

Parents, I cannot protect your children. I must be honest in telling you that the war is alive and well in our classrooms, and children are being harmed every day. What is happening is evil, cruel and abusive. Refuse the tests and deny the corporations the profit, deny the district, state and federal government your child's data (which they can share with corporations), deny the publishing companies the opportunity to create more common core products.  Without the data, the profit ends and we have an opportunity to reclaim our public schools, our profession. We have an opportunity to do what is right for all children.  I am done smiling and saying, I am doing my best. I'm not.


Friday, July 25, 2014

The Loss of Libraries and Librarians



The subject of libraries is near and dear to my heart. In a second life I may come back as a librarian – if there are any libraries left.  My elementary school had a tiny little library; it was lovely.  I looked forward to checking out books every week – sometimes I checked out books that were big and fat - books I couldn’t read yet, but books that gave me great pleasure to carry around while I periodically turned the pages. At our public library I would check out books by the dozen. I would check out books that were meant for adults, books on topics I had never heard of and I would stack them in my bedroom to look at - without any pressure or requirement to reach a certain reading level or to write a paragraph when I finished reading them.  I also read books meant for children my age – I read Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, E.B. White, and more. As I got older I found myself enamored with various mystery series, then on to studies of various religions, anthropology, a spattering of science fiction, and poetry. I read what I wanted when I wanted. As I grew my tastes changed, but I knew that at the library I could pretty much find anything, and if I couldn’t find it the librarian would be there to help me sift through the card catalog (yes I am that old). I must confess that my parents rarely read to me, but I was continually surrounded by mounds of books as they were both avid readers.  I knew that books were important – sacred – and could answer my questions and solve my problems. I knew that books could help me dream big. There was something about the library and the librarian that made me feel at home – I felt I belonged.

As a child, I knew that the librarian was always close by to assist in my exploration of the world – and ultimately, myself. I could share my interests with a librarian and suddenly – voila – I was surrounded by books that spoke to me - books that made me feel whole - books that gave me a better sense of my identity, who I was and what I might become.  Just as a child plays dress up, I found that I played dress up through books. One day I was an anthropologist surrounded by books that an anthropologist might have. The next week I was a poet carrying Emily Dickinson with me everywhere I went. For a bit I was an artist and I became quite good at water color painting with the assistance of some lovely library books. I can only imagine what it must be like to observe children come and go from a library, while helping them find resources, and watching as they grow and their interests grow with them. Those stories can only be told by the librarians of the world. I am not a librarian so I cannot speak for them – but it seems like it would be such a joyful job to help people find resources that fill their souls or lead them down their life’s path. I have never taken libraries for granted - to be allowed to take home all of these resources for free still amazes me.  And truly, it has always felt like a bit of a celebration for me when I visit a library.  I cannot anticipate what will happen – what I will find – and what lovely gifts will come home with me and somehow, alter my world. 
 

I watch libraries closely now, in this world that feels much harder and colder. Libraries seem to shut down by the day  - hitting hard in areas where access to information - for free - is desperately needed. There are also many libraries with no librarian to steer the ship. My own son has no librarian at his public high school. The elementary school where I teach has no librarian yet we have a phenomenal library – but without a librarian, truly, the library has no heart – or perhaps, it’s like it has been lulled to sleep via some cruel curse - and only a librarian can bring it back to life. It’s a strange phenomenon. If you have ever spent time in a library where no librarian exists, perhaps you understand. The feeling of community and belonging does not exist. The feeling of excitement and the possibility of discovering the unknown is flat – I can’t sense it and I can’t see it.  I watch the children check out books, but many of the children who have questions, many of the children who are unfamiliar with authors and particular series, many of the children who don’t know that the library is a world that can and will open new doors for them, often end up randomly picking a book and sitting in line until check out time is over. Meanwhile, the teacher is busy doing the check out – there is no time to talk to the children and find out what makes them tick – there is no time to walk them to the bin of books that will light up their faces and change their thinking or their view of the world. 

I think about my own knowledge of books and how I can navigate a library fairly well due to the fact that I grew up around books and I am surrounded by books in my own home.  Many of the students I work with do not have any books at home – when one doesn’t have books at home – how does that affect their experience in a library with no librarian to help them along the way? I think about my first time eating sushi – small town girl from Missouri no less – and I remember being incredibly thankful that I was with experienced sushi eaters who could assist me in knowing what to get, how to eat it and how to enjoy it and feel at ease in the restaurant. I know it’s a weak comparison – but I am trying to think of how I might feel in an environment that is new to me – and how do I react? And how would I react in a sushi restaurant if I had to pick and choose without the help of experienced restaurant staff or friends? Might I simply walk out? 

Now imagine being a young child. 

I just wonder, what is it like for the children who have not grown up in a literacy rich environment as they attempt to navigate a library on their own – without a librarian? What literacy experiences have been denied to them because they are unsure of how to navigate a room full of books, other informational resources, and technology? What solutions to problems have been denied to them because they didn’t know the answers to their questions were sitting on the shelf  to the right? Which authors – who might have spoken to their souls – were denied to them because they had no idea – for example – that Gary Paulsen’s love for dogs was as great as theirs? And at what point – did the child simply stop asking questions?

Do you remember that moment when you read a book and you said to yourself – this author speaks to me – and you were certain that you and that author would be good friends if only you had a chance to meet over coffee. I remember that moment. I remember it again and again. I am certain that Emily Dickinson and I would have been fast friends. Also Anne Frank - I devoured every single book I could find about her. I also connected with characters in books. Without question I would have been Ayla’s closest friend and ally - if only I could have leaped into the Jean Auel Earth’s Children series. These experiences – these books – these authors – these characters - these librarians who have assisted me in pursuing my interests - have helped shape who I am today.

I want to dig even deeper – I want to dig into the concept of a library as the cornerstone of democracy in each public school – and/or community.  Simply put – knowledge is power. Access to knowledge is expanded through the experienced librarian who is ready to help – the experienced librarian who listens to the young child as he or she shares his/her life stories. Don’t think for one second that Google can match a librarian – Google is only letting you discover what Google thinks you ought to discover. Google manages us, maneuvers us, and gathers data every step of the way as we search for information.

Let's also consider Red Box. If you can’t afford to buy DVDs these days, and you can’t afford Netflix, Direct TV, whatever it may be – you might find yourself headed to Red Box. Red Box will give you limited options. You can pick from a few things and that’s it – Red Box controls what you can view – therefore, ultimately, it could shape your view of reality – your view of what is out there in the world. Can you imagine the "Red Box" of libraries?

The library, as the cornerstone of democracy in each school, is the hub for problem solving, the hub for exploration, action, talk, debate, research and more - this is where ideas are formed.

If the library lacks a librarian – who do you go to in order to get the resource you need - or perhaps find out if such a resource exists – whether it be a website, a book or any other form of media? Who chooses the resources for a library if there is no librarian to purchase them? The librarian is the person who has a keen sense of what each individual in the library community wishes to discover – and the librarian has the knowledge and expertise to find these books and resources.  I can attest to the challenges in ordering for a library – I have had to do this for two years now at my school and I cringe to think about how I could have done it better – I am not a librarian and I do not possess the knowledge needed in order to purchase thousands of books for a library. If there is no librarian – and you more or less are stuck with the “Red Box” of libraries – who is deciding what you view – what information you have access too?  If you think even more deeply about this – a librarian  has no financial profit  to be gained from you – the librarian is truly there to help you pursue your interests and ultimately your life’s dreams. What does Red Box want from you?  What does Red Box have to gain? Think about that when you see or hear about the new libraries that are strictly online. The librarian is not gathering data points on you like Google or Red Box– the librarian is developing a relationship with you and simply wishes to help you as you think, question and dream.

The librarian opens the door to democracy.

Let’s take a look into what we know about research on libraries and librarians. We know that librarians and excellent libraries improve student reading achievement. I could go on about this for pages and pages. It’s been stated again and again. Just view this link And this link. And this. Or how about this or this or this. Krashen states, "In recent years two studies have confirmed that investing in the school library can not only make a difference, it can actually offset the impact of poverty on reading achievement." 

Yet libraries and librarians do not create the profit that come from online testing, online common core curriculum and chrome books galore. 

Libraries and librarians increase the opportunity to think – they increase questioning – they increase problem solving and the ability to discover truths. Discovering truths and solving problems is a dangerous thing in a country that is determined to keep things standardized  -  in order to keep data flowing quickly to the corporations  - in order to manage us while profiting and privatizing. Democracy and thinking is messy and cannot be standardized – that makes profit and privatization via standardized data collection rather difficult.

I have been told on occasion that there is no need for libraries and librarians!  We have technology!!!! Technology will not notice the small shy child who enters the library with questions in his head that crave an answer. Technology will not notice the young girl wandering aimlessly amidst the books – the young girl who is unsure of what books interest her because she has never checked out a book and has no books at home. Technology will not hold a child’s hand and smile while headed to the "books on CD" section.  Technology will not share books with the child, after building a relationship with a child over the past month and now knowing clearly that this child loves castle books and anything related to natural disasters. Technology will not continually try to tap into a child’s interest by reading aloud stories again and again while listening to the child’s cues as the child laughs, or her eyes light up, or she leans closer as the story builds – or she simply grabs the book and says to the librarian – can I take this home? Technology will not hand the young five year old a library card and say, “Welcome, you are now a member of our library.” Technology will not offer a warm chair to the elderly homeless man who comes in daily to read the newspaper, while also checking to see if he has eaten that day. Technology will not develop a relationship with the young mother who is trying to find a job (and comes to the library daily), while simultaneously learning English, and is unsure of what resources - books, media and/or individuals - might best help her in her community.  Need I go on? 

I watch the disappearance of librarians and libraries across our country and with each disappearance I see another stone removed from the foundation of our democracy.  I see another obstacle placed in our way as we attempt to organize as communities and come together to support one another in reclaiming our democracy. Racine, Wisconsin just purged 8,000 books from their public school libraries. What does that mean? What is the reasoning? Who is controlling access to information in Racine and how did they make the decision that the children of Racine no longer need these 8,000 books? What information will now be denied to the community of Racine – and why?

We are at war with those who wish to tear down our democracy by denying us access to information that is developed and maintained by librarians who can advocate for the needs of their communities. We know that libraries and librarians increase reading achievement. We know they build and support community. We most certainly know that their existence is vital if we are to reclaim our democracy and develop problem solving citizens. It is not enough to simply have a library. We must remember that libraries create community – and community is created by building relationships – and relationships and free access to information in our libraries are fostered by human beings, by librarians who care about the individuals in their communities and will speak up for them. We must remember that at this crucial time in our country – it will be the grassroots efforts of communities that will reclaim our public schools and our democracy. Denying communities and children access to libraries and librarians, who are advocates for our communities,  is an excellent way to stop us - isn’t it?


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is my belief that "opt out" presents an opportunity to make what has always been possible for our public schools a reality. It is more than just ending high stakes testing. It involves rethinking the role of teachers, students and the public school system as a whole. We, at United Opt Out National, demand the following: We demand an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system for all Americans that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue. I believe in this statement - my eye is on this ball. And I know that opting out of high stakes testing is the key to getting there. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opt out and deny them their money, their power. 

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

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

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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Charade of Prompt Writing

A quick thought I posted on FB:

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

NBI #10 at CEA: Withdraw from PARCC

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

 Solidarity to all of you.

My comments in favor of NBI #10 Withdraw from PARCC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UOO to CEA: How Can We Help?

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

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

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

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


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


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

NEW BUSINESS ITEM 24

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

Cost Implications

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

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



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

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

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