Thursday, December 27, 2012

Parents: Ask the Questions. Tell the Story. Take Action.

I have created a Facebook page to support parents in learning more about Colorado's schools, but specifically to learn more about what to look for - what questions to ask in order to find out about real learning and real teaching in your child's classroom.  I have spent a lot of time in Colorado schools, much of that time supporting administrators and teachers in growing as reflective practitioners. While the Facebook page is set up specifically for Colorado, please know that it will benefit any parent in any state.

I created the Facebook page, Parents: What Colorado School Grades Doesn't Want You to Know as a result of being banned from posting comments on Colorado School Grades FB page, which grades schools based on standardized test data received from the CDE (Colorado Department of Education). The one thing I know clearly is this - standardized state test scores tell us very little if anything about our public schools. It tells me which areas are affluent and which are not. And, as a parent, surface level questions with predetermined answers are not enough to help me determine the growth my child has made as a learner and as a citizen. It is misleading to grade schools based on high stakes testing and it tells a false narrative about students, educators, schools and communities, and therefore parents, you need to be asking the questions and telling the story. Don't let the CDE or Colorado School Grades create a false narrative for your child, your child's teacher or your community.

Having worked in "F" schools I can tell you right now that the growth the children make is often astounding in these schools. "F" schools are often schools in which many children are on free and reduced lunch. There are often children with special needs and others who are learning a second language. The growth these children are making as they grapple with a new language or a special need is mind boggling - their brilliance should be commended, not punished. The expertise of the veteran teachers is immense and should be praised. Having worked in "A" schools I would also be interested in seeing the importance the school places on state test scores. While many "A" schools would excel anyway, simply because the children come from homes full of books and the school is fully resourced with quality teachers, librarians and more,  there is also the chance that the school has defined itself by its test scores and is sending the children a message that these scores are valued more than other assessment of learning, such as portfolio or project based learning. Many "A" schools pride themselves on their test scores because it's great for the real estate market, not so great for real learning - so just be careful and ask the right questions - the grade a school gets is not enough to know if creative, critical and conceptual thinking is occurring in your child's classroom.

Begin by talking to your child. Next, talk to your child's teacher. Here are a few questions to ask your child's teacher  (and the questions can be tweaked and you can ask your child the same questions). Feel free to add on to the questions in the comment space. 


  • What growth has your child made as a reader, writer, mathematician, a citizen?
  • Has your child learned to problem solve as a reader in new genres? Ask for examples.
  • Is your child able to draft and revise while keeping the needs of the audience in mind? Ask for examples.
  • How does your child work within a group? 
  • Does your child express his or her opinion? When and how (in writing? speaking?)
  • What has your child created or accomplished this semester as a musician, artist, athlete? Ask for examples.
  • Ask the teacher to show you projects your child has completed and specifically ask what growth occurred during the work on this project.
  • Do the projects allow your child's creativity or "voice" to shine through?  How so?
  • Has your child written on topics that s/he has independently chosen? Ask for examples.
  • What books has your child chosen to read, when given free choice for reading? 
  • Is your school using a program for math, reading, or writing? And if so, what freedom does the teacher have to make decisions about when and how to use the program? Ask the teacher, does s/he like the program? And if not, what would s/he do differently?
  • Does your child have recess? How long? What does your child do during recess time?
  • What sort of seat work does your child do? How much time is spent doing seat work?
These are just a few questions to ask. The body of evidence for each learner is rich. If your child's teacher shows you state test data and nothing more, don't stop there - push for more information - daily assignments, artwork, reading logs, writing pieces, push push push. Do not allow your child to be defined by a single test score.

It is time to shift the narrative, but to do so, we need to be the ones asking the questions and sharing the answers. The corporate education reformers have shaped the narrative around isolated numbers - these numbers take the heart out of teaching and learning and destroy the souls of communities.  The corporate education reformers take these numbers and create a story for each school - some stories are full of success, others are full of failure, in either case, the narrative is a false one because it is based on isolated numbers with no connection to real learning and teaching. It is a story defined by corporations who have predetermined your child's growth as a learner based on surface level questions with finite answers - this story is orchestrated so that the corporations can profit off of public education - tidy numbers are easy to crunch and easy to cash in on - real learning and teaching is messy and comes with passion that cannot be bought and sold.

So, start asking the questions and create a new story about your school and the learners and educators working inside that community, doing their best to learn and grow in a system which defines them by hollow numbers. Find out about the creative, conceptual and critical thinking that occurs in your child's classroom - if it's not there find out why! Discover how your child's teacher is resisting and rebuilding amidst a system which would prefer s/he remain silent and let the powers that be cash in on every child in the classroom. Perhaps you will discover that the teacher's hands are tied and the teacher is required to skill/drill for the test - if so, do something about it!

Start asking the real questions. If you need help determining what to ask or what action to take, post on the FB page - other parents and educators will be happy to share. Watch the story change and evolve into something much more intriguing and engaging than a number. Watch your child evolve as a learner. Watch the heart of learning and teaching seep back into the story.

When you know your child's story, whatever it may be, I guarantee that action will follow - you will feel the need to voice your opinion about your child's fabulous school. Perhaps you will discover that your child's school has been graded unfairly due to high stakes testing and you will feel the need to do something about it. Perhaps you will discover that the librarian or orchestra teacher was cut from the budget. Perhaps you will find out that your child's teacher is a force to be reckoned with and is refusing the mandates and allowing creativity to blossom within the classroom. As the story evolves amidst your child's potential and growth as a learner, please share. We can all learn from one another and we can improve and preserve our public schools for all children. Don't allow the corporations to write our story for us - do it yourself.  Arm yourself with knowledge and become empowered.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Colorado School Grades Supports the Manufactured Crisis

Update as of December 26, 2012

It appears I have been banned from posting on Colorado School Grades. Below you will find my post left on their Facebook page several days ago. Now that I have been banned from posting it confirms for me, even more so, the importance of making sure that the public understands that the information shared by Colorado School Grades is misleading and harmful to many of Colorado's children. More often than not, it is most harmful to those with special needs, those learning a second language and finally, those living in poverty.

I mentioned in my post below the importance of sharing a full body of evidence to demonstrate student learning - grading schools based on the data from CDE is completely misleading.

In addition, by banning me from commenting on their FB page, Colorado School Grades is also misleading the public and they also need to share a full body of evidence in regard to the opinions and comments about how they are grading schools.

Taking away my postings and completely shutting down my freedom of speech is exactly what the corporate education reformers desire.  My knowledge of student learning and how to demonstrate evidence of student learning is a dangerous thing in today's world of data crunchers who have no understanding of real learning and teaching. When a school is "graded" an F, you have labeled children, teachers and schools unfairly; they are already fighting for survival in a system that is set up to fail them. But that is the purpose of all this - and Colorado School Grades is also playing the game which is this: cash in on the public schools as quickly as you can - before the public realizes that their tax dollars are feeding into a system that is now run by the corporations and the politicians who have money and status to gain. Is Sidwell going to be graded by such a system as Colorado School Grades? Oh that's right, they aren't required to participate in high stakes testing, common core standards and scripted lock-step curriculum delivered by teachers as technicians. Teachers such as myself are an endangered species in the public schools.

As a public intellectual and a reflective practitioner I will continue to speak the truth in order to preserve and improve public schools for all children. And I will send every education activist I know over to Colorado School Grades to make certain that parents have a body of evidence with which to determine on their own whether they believe the bogus grading spouted by Colorado School Grades.

Knowledge is a dangerous thing.

First Blog Post below 

Please join me in shifting the narrative.

My comment on their FB page

This is all very misleading and does not tell the true picture of Colorado's schools. Many children make great gains when you look at the body of evidence versus just what the CDE shares with you. And these children, many who are second language learners, who make these great gains, are absolutely brilliant to have accomplished so much when we take into consideration poverty and the challenges of learning a new language. In addition - these children are often in public schools which have no wrap around services for poverty - it's astounding what they are able to accomplish - and it's astounding also considering that they are deprived of art, music, pe, libraries and more due to the money being wasted on high stakes testing and all that profits corporations. I am not proud of schools who do well on the state test - who cares about a bubble sheet which focuses on surface level skills. I am proud of teachers and learners who can demonstrate growth using a body of evidence which includes portfolio and project based assessment - real thinking - real learning. What you are sharing with parents is simply information on how our state is using testing to send a false image of what is really happening, therefore allowing this manufactured crisis to continue to prevail and allow corporations to make money off the backs of our children, simultaneously dumbing-down our society with lockstep curriculum and testing as we the teachers must attempt to meet the top down mandates that do nothing to create equal education or allow for autonomy within the teaching profession. www.unitedoptout.com

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Humanity



Trying to move forward after yesterday. I've had many conversations with friends and family as we all try to figure out what to do, how to help when we feel helpless, how to grapple with fear, anger and absolute despair. I would be lying if I told you that I went to bed last night with any hope left in my soul. But then this morning I began to sift through my emails and my conversations with all the teachers I have spoken with and the word that continues to come forward is love.

And then I think about our schools and the love, the heart, the soul that has been stripped from them. And then I think about our society and the love, the heart, the soul that has been stripped from it.

And I watch the corporations, the media, the politicians, tell us what is good for us, attempt to desensitize us, attempt to create workers - not thinkers who feel love, pain, anger, frustration - and have the tools - the voice - the power - with which to deal with these feelings, and make choices and decisions which help our democracy thrive - with soul.

I watch the testing cycle in my own school. One cycle ends, another begins. These mandates cause us to forget what we know, these mandates leave us no time to do what we know - all of it, one more strategy to take the heart out of learning and teaching. I see the wear and tear on the teachers as they try to bring heart into their lessons in the midst of these mandates. I see the beauty of learning that seeps through the cracks and grows and flowers amidst a country that attempts to deprive it of rain.

But then I go back to yesterday, before I knew about Sandy Hook.  In the morning I watched some of the children get their weekend bags of food to take home. The children were quietly brought out of the classrooms to fill their backpacks without the rest of the children watching. The adults spoke to them in soft tones as the children filled their bags and commented on how heavy they were. I watched and I saw the kindness, the compassion and the love for these children. So much love.

I thought to myself, I would like President Obama to witness this moment.  This moment of poverty in action - it's brutal rawness in the light of the holidays and the spirit of renewal and hope. I wanted him to see the way the love wrapped around these children.

And then Sandy Hook. And the rawness turned to such pain, so severe, that I had no words, no resources, no way to comprehend it.

My mind raced, as I am sure yours did. So many thoughts and no answers. And emotion so strong that clear thinking seemed impossible.

Education, schools, teaching, learning, it is all about humanity - helping each of us to be human, to have compassion, to be part of society and all that could and should make this world a better place.

And I will be damned if I will allow this to be stripped from us.

If there was ever a time for educators to demand more for our children the time is now.  

If our schools were allowed to have heart. If our schools were given the resources to grapple with poverty and all of the mental and physical trauma that rears its ugly head in the face of no food, shelter and clothing, imagine how our society might begin to become more loving, less violent and more willing to fight against those who attempt to destroy our souls. Imagine how empowered everyone would be as they knew they were safe, knew they had options, knew they had a voice and could use it to make their world, our world, a better place.

I wish I could do more for Sandy Hook. I feel helpless. But I will do what I can for our society today and tomorrow, as a mom, as an educator and a citizen of a country that has lost its way.

Blessings to you Sandy Hook. Much love, much heart, much soul – all to infinity.

Friday, December 14, 2012

To Infinity


My day started out watching the kindergarten students race through the school gathering clues about the gingerbread man who had run away. They went from room to room, where teachers told the children what they had seen and what direction he had gone, the mischievous little gingerbread boy had even been seen eating pretzels off the secretary's desk. Watching the children's wide eyes and seeing them get to be children was a beautiful thing. And the school smelled like gingerbread. And I thought to myself, this is a good day…and I want to remember this day. I felt the love in our school. And then I walked back to my office to continue instructional dialogues with teachers and found a text on my phone. And the whole world came crashing down. It was followed by a reassuring email from our superintendent, and then the police, to let us know of the events in Sandy Hook and how we might get support if needed, due to Aurora having its own share of pain. And then I went home and hugged my own kindergartener. And now my heart goes out to Sandy Hook.  Yet it isn't enough. And I don't know what else to do, so I will add what my own kindergartener, Luke, says when he wants to express never-ending love, blessings, prayers and hope......he says send it all to infinity – so that is how much love I am trying to send the families of Sandy Hook – to infinity.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jefferson City Public Schools and the RTTT Grant

My response to Jefferson City Public School's status as a finalist in the RTTT district grant competition.

As a graduate of Jefferson City High School and an education activist who has been following the destruction of Race to the Top policies, I can tell you right now that accepting this Race to the Top money is the death of real learning and real teaching for the children of Jefferson City. All of the Race to the Top policies are tied to high stakes testing measures and teacher evaluation measures which do not work and create a system of fear among educators and students. The name itself says it all - "racing to the top" does not allow everyone to receive a whole and equitable education, racing means there will be losers. High stakes testing attached to teacher evaluation means that teaching to the test will increase immensely - you can throw critical,creative and conceptual thinking out the window. Race to the Top policies profit only the politicians and corporations - no one else. The goal under Race to the Top is increased testing - testing in every single subject, such as library, yearbook, P.E. All of this will be tied to the common core standards which are now the cash cow for all of the testing and textbook companies as they create new tests, new textbooks tied to the common core. The common core standards will give you one thing - common children. Not to mention the fact that the common core standards were NOT created by educators, have never been field tested and are not developmentally appropriate. If this money is accepted you will be a testing machine like no other with children working for Pearson using your tax dollars. If I can answer any questions please feel free to email me at writepeg@juno.com and check out our website at United Opt Out National. Peggy (Wolf) Robertson.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Teaching President Obama the Conditions for Learning


Dear President Obama,


I am done pleading with you.  I am writing due to my great respect for Diane Ravitch, who has requested that everyone write to you by October 17th.  I am going to use this opportunity to teach you something, as it appears your administration is very uneducated regarding real teaching and real learning.  I want to share the Conditions for Learning by Brian Cambourne. Teachers know and implement CFL in their classrooms on a daily basis – that is, they attempt to implement CFL in their classrooms, yet it is increasingly difficult under the crushing Race to the Top policies your administration has implemented with the zealous support of billionaires and a sell-out mainstream media.

As I share it, I would like you to visualize a child, named Josh, who is living in poverty. He is fictitious but he is based on many children I have taught. Imagine a child unclean, wearing the same shirt many days in a row, often hungry, sneakers with holes and a gently used winter jacket, thanks to a community donation. This child shares a home with many relatives. Sometimes he has a couch to sleep on, sometimes the floor. There are no screens in the windows and the bugs fly in and out freely in the hot humid heat of the South. The one constant in his life should have been school. Yet, his conditions for learning are very difficult to meet due to high stakes testing, teacher evaluation tied to the test, the common core NATIONAL standards and the lack of resources in his school which has been labeled for turnaround under RTTT.

So let’s look at the Conditions for Learning as it relates to literacy and Josh’s learning experience.

The first condition is IMMERSION. Under this condition this learner should be immersed in texts of all kinds. Yet, his school has no funding for a library or a librarian. There are very few texts of any kind in his home. At school, Josh is fed tests, not texts.

The second condition is DEMONSTRATION.  The learner should be receiving “many demonstrations of how texts are constructed and used.” While the teachers attempt to do this, their hands are tied due to the fear of their school being closed, therefore the demonstrations this learner does receive are typically connected to the test and are typically based on low level learning. Demonstrations are intensely focused on skill/drill rather than providing the learner with the opportunity to problem solve using text and their prior knowledge of text. Common core NATIONAL standards actually suggest that children do not consider or think about their prior knowledge.

The third is EXPECTATION.  Brian Cambourne writes, “Expectations of those to whom learners are bonded are powerful coercers of behavior. ‘We achieve what we expect to achieve; we fail if we expect to fail; we are more likely to engage with demonstrations of those whom we regard as significant and who hold high expectations for us.” Under Race to the Top Josh has been the unlucky recipient of a Teach for America teacher. This teacher has received about six weeks training. The spread of TFAs is encouraged under your administration and 50 million dollars was given to TFA to continue spreading inexperienced teachers to our neediest schools.  Josh is African-American. His new teacher from TFA is white, has a degree in political science and lived out East. Josh is not bonding with this teacher. He is wise to this game and realizes this teacher has no understanding of his culture, his community, nor does this teacher intend to stay. Josh is accustomed to constant and disruptive change and does not trust easily. He did have strong relationships with many of his former teachers but they were fired when TFA was brought into his school. Josh knows he is being prepared for a test; he does not feel that his teacher has high expectations for him, but rather he feels he is doing what is necessary to keep his school from closing. He knows his teacher’s expectation is that he must do well on this test.  It is not about learning, it is about gaming the test so that his community is not destroyed.

The fourth condition is RESPONSIBILTY.  Cambourne states, “Learners need to make their own decisions about when, how, and what ‘bits’ to learn in any learning task.  Learners who lose the ability to make decisions are ‘depowered.’”  Simply put, Josh is powerless. He makes no decisions about his learning. There is no art, PE, music or recess so he has very little creative or free outlet in which he might pick and choose how to express himself. His writing is typically focused on writing prompts geared to increase his score on the state test, therefore the idea of choosing topics is out the window. He reads what he is told to read and has limited opportunity to choose independent reading material because there is no library.  He is not involved in any decisions regarding his learning; he is simply laboring for Pearson.

The fifth condition is USE. Josh should have an opportunity and time to “use, employ, and practice” his “developing control in functional, realistic, non-artificial ways.” This is a pipe dream under Race to the Top. As an educator, it is my job to support learners in becoming lifelong learners and citizens who can problem solve and allow our democracy to thrive. Yet – under Race to the Top, teachers are told to be sure students are career and college ready. It seems that students are career and college ready if they are able to perform well on a standardized state test – which ultimately focuses on low level skills. The policies surrounding high stakes testing do not allow for real USE. Teachers faced with the fear of losing their jobs, specifically in schools such as Josh’s school, are no longer allowed to give Josh opportunities to problem solve and dig deep. Rather, Josh will be required to create formulaic writing responses and his brain will be filled with facts that he can regurgitate on the test. Josh actually wants to be an auto mechanic and he currently sees no connection between school and his future. There is no authentic use of learning, it is all artificial. Real life or USE cannot be contained within a bubble sheet.

The sixth condition is APPROXIMATION.  Cambourne states, “Learners must be free to approximate the desired model – ‘mistakes’ are essential for learning to occur.” Under Race to the Top mistakes result in being held back a grade, teachers being fired, schools being closed and handed over to profiteers, and children being rearranged and redistributed like a deck of cards at the whim of those who typically know nothing about teaching and learning.  Josh knows that his mistakes hold consequences for his community. He knows that the state test is not simply a test, it is a test that can topple his community. He does not feel he has time or room to make mistakes.

The seventh condition is RESPONSE.  Cambourne states, “Learners must receive ‘feedback’ from exchanges with more knowledgeable ‘others.’ Response must be relevant, appropriate, timely, readily available, non-threatening, with no strings attached.”  Well, first, we know that his teacher is not knowledgeable as his teacher has only 6 weeks training.  We know that there is no relevance to any learning that is focused on high stakes test preparation.  In addition, state test scores are definitely not released in a timely fashion, yet even if they were, the results are useless – unless you want to know Josh’s zip code which I would have been happy to share for free.  Finally, receiving feedback or responses via high stakes testing can be highly threatening, resulting in Josh’s inability to sleep the night before a test, vomiting in the bathroom on test day and having such great fear during the test time that he often freezes up on questions in which he actually knows the answer. Because the test is ultimately designed for white affluent children, Josh is already at a loss due to the many biases found within his test booklet. He feels threatened because he indeed is being threatened. The feedback must have no strings attached – that is impossible under RTTT policies.

Finally, I want to share the condition of ENGAGEMENT. Engaging in one’s learning is crucial – for Josh it will be the game breaker – he may drop out of school without engagement. If all the previous conditions above are met, engagement is much more likely to occur. Engagement occurs if Josh feels like he is a “potential ‘doer’ or ‘performer’ ” of the demonstrations he is seeing. He has to believe that engaging in these demonstrations will actually further the purpose of his life. And, Josh should be able to engage and “try to emulate without fear of physical or psychological hurt if” his attempt isn’t completely correct. Racing to the Top makes engagement incredibly difficult and impossible for many children living in high poverty areas.

Racing to the Top results in physical and psychological hurt for children as schools are closed, opposing gangs are placed in the same building, as children are held back due to test scores, as children are drugged in order to be alert during the mundane and repetitive nature of skill/drill, and as children are deserted when experienced teachers are fired and replaced by corporate reformers who have no empathy.

You see, President Obama, as an educator I know very well what conditions are necessary for learning to occur in my classroom. I do not believe any of your policies promote the Conditions for Learning. Rather, your policies fly in the face of everything a learner needs.

President Obama, you do not really see students such as Josh. If you did, the empathy you would feel (and I still have hope that you can feel empathy) would cause you to change your policies. Yet, in order to privatize public education, it is important NOT to have empathy for these children. These children must remain a number so that the real pain and torture of RTTT is not known to the general public.

Whether you win or not matters very little in regard to what happens with our public school system. So, I will continue to do what I do best – I will continue to share what experienced teachers know.  I will continue to share the truths about corporate education reform. Teachers must resist and rebuild all at once in order to repair the damage that is occurring daily and will continue to occur until the profiteers have squeezed every last dollar out of our public schools.  I will do my best to support teachers in implementing the Conditions for Learning and I will do everything I can to oppose RTTT policies by continuing to ask all parents and students to opt out of the lynch pin – the state test – which holds this fa├žade together.

I am headed back to the front line next week, after being away from teaching for six years. As an educational activist I will continue my work on the outside, but it is time for me to head back in and help to resist, rebuild and protect the children of this country. I fear if I do not, there will soon be few true educators left. Race to the Top is simultaneously destroying public education and the teaching profession. As President, perhaps you can learn something from the Conditions for Learning, should you win a second term.  I, however, will be voting for Jill Stein.

Sincerely,

Peggy Robertson
A Teacher with a Professional Conscience

For more on the Conditions for Learning see The Whole Story by Brian Cambourne.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

On the Eve of the Strike: Thank you CTU



As a former public school teacher who has been out of the system for six years, who feels as though no large body of people have ever – ever - stood up for educators –  for me - for public schools – for students – in my professional lifetime – I just want to say thank you.

For all of the professionals – teachers – who are out there tonight – remember who you are – while I remember who I am.  CTU is making sure I remember.

We are professionals with high expertise in a field of study that our nation must have in order to keep our democracy thriving.

We are professionals who are required to wear many different hats due to the nature of our job and the inability of our government and our society to recognize and take responsibility for the disgraceful poverty in our wealthy nation.

We know best practices and we have heart – none of which add up to a number.

We are the protectors of America's children.

We are the catalyst for the creativity, brilliance and problem solving found in the leaders across our country.

We help create beauty, bravery and confidence found in the citizens who can save our country from its current pending fall.

We are teachers.

I look to CTU.

I look to CTU and expect the nation to follow. While our public schools are dismantled, while children are abused by the policies of corporate education reformers, while teachers work in environments full of fear, while communities are torn apart, I have great hope that the rebuilding will occur as CTU lays the foundation.

Teachers across the nation, be proud tonight, you are valued and you are not replaceable, no matter what the media, politicians, billionaires or your community says.

Chin up. Stand with CTU, smile tonight and send them immense amounts of good energy. Midnight is the deadline.  CTU stands up for me.  I am a teacher.

Thank you CTU.



Sunday, September 2, 2012

SpringBoard: Common Core Crap


I recently had the unfortunate opportunity to examine a SpringBoard assignment, sent to me by a concerned parent with a child in seventh grade.  SpringBoard is the latest and greatest curriculum creation of The College Board which is led by no less than David Coleman, the well known architect of the Common Core. 

Their website states, "SpringBoard is fully aligned to the Common Core State Standards and helps all students and teachers reach the goals of the Common Core Initiative. The Common Core Standards provide the “what” in the form of required achievements for students. Curriculum materials must provide the “how” to help students achieve the standards outlined." 

Ch Ching.

This particular assignment from SpringBoard was titled Writing Workshop. I found this to be highly intriguing as I spent my entire teaching career using Writer's Workshop with my students, and finally supporting teachers in implementing the many fine nuances found within this complex teaching practice. Writer's Workshop allows for authentic writing as the students engage in the writing process and culminates in publication for a real audience. To the observer who knows little about Writer's Workshop, it may appear as an extremely messy process, but the highly skilled teacher understands the incredible organization that is needed to implement such a workshop successfully. Let's just say - it ain't easy. The process is full of writing, reading, talking, brainstorming, sharing and giving feedback, within a room that has a constant buzz filled with the energy of ideas and the empowerment of the student voice.  All in all, it is beautiful. The high level of engagement is contagious – the urgency and excitement with which ideas are expressed – the smiles, the struggles and the support of the learners as they work together in groups to revise their writing pieces - it is authentic learning. One minute the teacher is sharing her own writing by thinking aloud as she writes on chart paper, the next she is with a small group, then she is roving, and finally she is conferencing with individual students. The children are fluid – they move from space to space – they have command of their work, their resources - and they know what they need to do to in order to meet their own personal writing goals.

Sigh….

Those were the days…

Please see the following screen shots from SpringBoard, a new college and career ready curriculum that is followed lockstep by teachers. Students at home can log in and print out assignments and get their questions addressed online. Needless to say, this is unlike any Writer's Workshop I have ever seen. Best practices, such as Writer's Workshop, will be destroyed at the hands of Common Core because it simply will not fit into the mold needed to create measurable data.

In this first screen shot the children are asked to create a graphic of the writing process. I am unsure why this is necessary, if they are indeed engaged in their own authentic writing process, which - call me crazy - would indeed be its own graphic, now wouldn't it? I am sure that struggling readers will be hell bent on addressing the "recursive" nature.


Here, the student is asked to explore his/her topic further. Notice the language such as "persona." Notice the word "mode."  I am wondering how second language learners and struggling readers might do on this assignment - let alone the typical 7th grader?!!?  I am wondering how this graphic will create scripted writing as students fill it out, plugging in strong verbs as demanded, simply to be done with this as quickly as possible. In addition, children plan differently as they consider their writing. Often a child has a killer writing idea and the format comes later. Writing is messy. It cannot be contained in a worksheet. The "role of the writer" is really beyond me - should they take on a new identity or something in order to "establish a connection with your readers?" And "establish a connection" - talk about a buzz kill if you even fathomed having a good writing idea.


Now see the fill in the blank - I can promise you that my students never filled in a blank in their draftbooks let alone on a god forsaken worksheet like this one. Throwing plates yet?
 

Don Murray would cringe to see his name on this. Of course he is correct - often writing does bounce along - fast -  and there is nothing better than a scripted worksheet such as this to shut down that momentum. Note the last line - "Write a draft to develop points in the preliminary organizational structure?"  What??? What is this language? Do they know who their audience is? These are seventh grade students!! Not business men planning a power point for a board meeting!


And last but not least, directions for meeting in writing groups - I simply can't imagine being able to speak a coherent sentence on my own after being given this lockstep process for participating in a group. But you see, that is the goal here - teacher proof curriculum with all teachers on the same page every day, complete with a lockstep process for students to follow rather than think. Follow, don't think. 


As I said earlier, Writer's Workshop is a messy yet highly organized teaching process. It cannot be jammed into a curriculum nor can it be force fed to children. The results of this assignment are easy to anticipate - children will treat this like any other good worksheet. They will do what they need to do in order to get the grade and they will not engage (how could they?) and then they will run as quickly as they can from any mention of future writing experiences. 

This, you see, is the new world of the Common Core. We must oppose it, refuse it, deny it, defy it, f$#@ing expose it for what it is whenever we can by educating parents and teachers about the profit to be made through the creation of nonthinking, soul destroying worksheets such as these. This is not simply a set of standards - it is a set of standards designed to allow corporations the ability to create common children via common curriculum and common assessments which will be used to drain our public schools of money as they attempt to abide by the guidelines of Race to the Top. There will be more tests - many more tests - as Common Core infiltrates our schools and profits billionaires while privatizing public education. The expense will be immense and will assist in the profiteers' plans to starve the public schools while using our tax dollars to dismantle what is left. Their goal is to move as quickly as they can, take as much as they can, before we wake up and realize we've been screwed. SpringBoard is simply one example of many more to follow.

And the casualties? The children of course. Always, the children.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sitting Ducks in Suburbia


I attended my son’s middle school Back to School Night this past week; you may recall that this is Sam’s first year in a public school.  I especially enjoy these events because as a former public school teacher, I enjoy hearing teachers speak, I love being in their classrooms and I most definitely want to let them know I appreciate their talents, education, dedication and time spent working with our children.

During my fifteen years of teaching my last five were spent teaching teachers and administrators in the public schools. A few of my responsibilities included training teacher leaders in the classroom, supporting administrators in classroom observation as well as providing professional development for districts.  Of course the more I learned the less I knew – but that is how it is with good teaching.  I have now been out of teaching for almost seven years and last night it fed my soul to hear our teachers speak. And because I know what to look for and listen for in a classroom, I have a different take on Back to School Night, as my fellow teacher readers will understand.

What is most fascinating about my child’s school is that I have been told it is not a good school – that it is simply mediocre.  I have actually been discouraged from sending my child there by some in my community, even in the light of their high test scores. Yet, what I heard and saw last night was seven exceptional teachers that my child is incredibly lucky to have. My child has a teacher with decades of teaching experience who said that his goal every day is to learn something new. His science teacher understands that science is best experienced hands-on and that his students – including my lucky son – should be in the laboratory nonstop. My son has a teacher who understands brain-based learning. He knows that stress and fear shut down any opportunity to retain or comprehend new learning. My son has an art teacher who has them keep art journals and hangs the following Picasso quote on her wall, “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” She also understands that small class size is essential to student focus. His language arts teacher values the importance of silent reading and writer’s workshop. Sam is the lucky recipient of a real P.E. class – unlike many children across this country - none of it is online (yes the absurdity of online P.E. does exist). Sam’s social studies teacher has already had them do a project which involved research and writing that connected Sam personally to history by focusing on the day he was born.  These projects will be displayed in the school’s hallways. Sam is in the school orchestra. Sam tells me that his principal is funny and is always smiling. These are the first impressions I have of my son's school.

I worry about our district. They are fairly sheltered from the storm that surrounds them.  I have already put up my umbrella in anticipation and have opted Sam out of 3 tests: Reading Counts, MAP and TCAP.  I opt out because I support public schools – I will not fill the pockets of profiteers who attempt to devour my tax dollars and our children. I opt out because I understand that a focus on high stakes tests narrows curriculum and authentic learning and teaching.  I opt out because children living in urban and high poverty areas are being abused at the hands of corporate education reform.

I already see extrinsic rewards at the school; I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will not see any connected to high stakes testing. I heard rumblings on Back to School Night regarding our country’s inability to compete with China – some obviously don’t know Dr. Yong Zhao’s work and the fact that China is desperately attempting to rid itself of high stakes testing which has created a country in which their graduates cannot think or innovate. Educators in China are in shock as they watch us destroy our country at the hands of high stakes testing. We have some of the highest test scores in the world - when we account for poverty. 

The Back to School newsletter included the following message: Our T-CAP scores are in and we did great. Our math status according to the state moved from the Meets category to Exceeds! Our reading held steady in the Meets category and our writing went from Approaching last year to Meets this year.

Of course this is very troublesome as it is sending a message that TCAP scores mean something; I know many of my fellow readers recognize that these tests do nothing to improve student achievement.  Decisions in the district are data driven using TCAP and MAP – neither of which improve student achievement.  Improved tests scores do not mean students can problem solve, create or think conceptually or critically. These test scores tell us we have good test takers and many children that are well fed and have access to books. And....if these tests are the prized assessments we know that there is most certainly teaching to the test occurring in the school.

Budget cuts are also rocking the boat. We have no librarian.  We are very lucky to have a library - many schools across the country do not - and the evidence connecting access to books and increased student reading scores on the NAEP is clear. It is our job to share research and educate. Suburbia is not immune.

My school district is also not immune to the teacher bashing that our country continues to spout. The teachers that are still in these buildings and have not yet jumped ship are a force to be reckoned with – we must support them by continually focusing on best practices and the authentic assessments they share.  We must help to change the narrative by turning away from high stakes testing and leaning forward proudly to share real learning and real teaching.  Our school district is piloting a teacher evaluation program this year – we must watch it closely.

What my school does NOT have is the following - my son does not have to share our building with a charter school – or 6 or 7 for that matter as we see in the Bronx. There are no metal detectors, no children required to follow SLANT.  None of my son’s teachers are TFAs. Our school is not housed in a basement. The students are not required to walk in straight lines wearing orange prison type shirts while the teacher yells, “Boys pick up those feet!”

Is this something to protect? You bet it is. And we can’t protect it by simply continuing to allow our children to take the state test – that is the kiss of death for the public schools. Suburbia is a sitting duck surrounded by casualties that they continue to ignore.



Tuesday, July 31, 2012

They Want Your Rug. Ask TPS.


What does it feel like to have the rug pulled out from under you?  All of us know this feeling to some extent.  And when you thought the rug was your rug – and someone claims it is not, what do you do?

I have had the rug pulled out from under me many times in my life. But I have never experienced a school closing as a teacher or a parent.  I wonder - what would I do? Now I sit here in Denver seething, then crying, then seething, then wondering who I can punch or what choice words I might email to the judge who upheld the closing of The Project School or the dictator mayor who first recommended it.  Who the hell are they?  What the F&%$ do they know about TPS and the fearless and dedicated parents and teachers? Nothing.

This isn’t their rug – and they took it – without warning, without due process or any intelligent reasoning for its closure – two weeks before school starts.

Now where will the TPS family sit and gather as a community? Their rug is gone. Teachers, parents, children now reeling.

And what do we do about it?  Don’t tell me we need to dialogue with those who negotiate with children’s lives.  Don’t tell me I need to vote for candidates who represent the lesser of two evils in the hopes that this will get better.  This isn’t getting better. This is getting worse. We have children going to schools with 75 to 1 student/teacher ratio, other children attending schools in former banks next to pawn shops, children re-routed on the school bus to find their home in motels, children segregated in schools that look more like prison and parents hoping they get their CHOICE of school for their children, yet the reality is there is only choice for a few.  And we are paying for all of this – we pay for the destruction of our schools and our communities.

I am told TPS is planning to open their doors this August and commence the 2012-2013 school year some how, some way.

And while TPS attempts to pull their community back together, we have got to be louder – locally and nationally.  We have to be more strategic. We have to fight against common core, high stakes testing, value-added measure, turn around and charter/choice.  Spend your time wisely. I have grave concerns regarding time spent analyzing the “test” – why analyze? We know the tests don’t improve student achievement so move on – I don’t give a rat’s ass what these tests look like – we don’t need them. Opt out of this insanity.  I have concerns as we flurry around signing petitions, posting on FB – are we just rats in a cage – do they watch us with amused fascination, then yawn and walk away?  I have serious concerns when anyone asks me to venture into dialogue with corporate reformers in the hopes of coming to some sort of “agreement.”  Don’t be fooled. These people already have agreed to a plan – it’s simple - dismantle public education and profit as quickly as they can before we figure out we are being screwed.  No need to waste your time blabbering with them.

They know what they want.

They want your rug.

If they don’t have it yet, they will come for it soon – and they will yank it hard – because they don’t care about your well-being or your fall as your head hits the ground – they care about their ideology, their money and they protect their own.

In solidarity TPS,

Stand tall and I look forward to the day that I can walk in your doors and sit with you, on your rug, with your beautiful community.  See you this school year.  United Opt Out National is headed your way.









Sunday, July 8, 2012

Eye. On. The. Ball.


Do not get distracted. 

We are looking at four key things we need to shut down: high stakes testing, value-added measure, common core and charter/choice - they lose if we shut these down.

Keep your eye on the ball. 

That is the advice I’ve received from a good friend this week whose opinion I trust implicitly.  At United Opt Out National we issued a statement. We revised the final paragraph for clarity. I haven’t commented on any of it personally because I felt that the statement by United Opt Out and the revision which followed said what needed to be said.  I have made some strong connections this week and am grateful for the many discussions that have ensued on blogs, Facebook and through those who personally reached out to me. 

That being said,

Keep your eye on the ball.

We cannot remain passive as organizations which profess to support us advocate for or remain silent in the face of high stakes testing, value-added measure, common core and charter/choice.

It is important to question those who compromise and protect their individual piece of the pie while children suffer, the teaching profession is erased and our country’s public education system is dismantled.  I will not stand by idly while educators assume Obama has their back.

Keep your eye on the ball.

It is important to continue to educate everyone on how to opt out of corporate education reform.  We must not be afraid to share with parents the opt out avenue – worrying about AYP ensures a slow and painful death – do not be afraid.  Tell the truth.  A mass opt out shuts them down. Send that message and share with your community the many ways to opt out of corporate education reform.

We must inform the public that these four things: high stakes testing, value-added measure, common core and charter/choice together are strangling us and will kill us.  Together they create a seamless road to our destruction, therefore all four must go and it is our job to make sure that everyone understands this and takes action however they can.

Keep your eye on the ball.

We can accomplish this.  Our paths will cross as we do this individually and in groups.  Some of us, such as myself, tend to be more extreme and more impulsive – sometimes I hit it just right and sometimes I miss the mark, learn from it and adjust my stance.  This is how I work.  It is who I am. Others are good at working from within – all of these positions are vital to our push forward – we each have our own strengths. Use them.

If the vulture has landed it is our job to target those areas and support those in danger however we can – we must all ask – how can we help?  If the vulture is circling we need to point upwards and make sure our neighbors see it and are prepared. If the vulture is in the distance and cannot be seen, we need to place images in front of our neighbors that help them recognize what is headed their way so that a plan can be put in place to stop them from landing.

We must be ready to attack and we must in mass refuse – however we can – to engage with the lock-step four: high stakes testing, value-added measure, common core and charter/choice.  We must opt out of these four items however we can.  When a door hanger is left on your doorstep, such as the one here, you must know the vulture is nesting in your backyard.

Do not get distracted.

Fight hard.  Do not be afraid to speak your mind.  We are running out of time. The way I see it, the next election will give us two things – a slow torturous death or a bullet through the head.  And to avoid either, we are going to have to fight harder than we’ve ever fought.

My children, your children, will inherit this and I want them to know I did everything I could to fight it with the strengths I have been given.

I will continue to hit hard – it is who I am and it is what I do best – take your strength and push forward as well. 

No distractions.  Eye. On. The. Ball.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Opting Out in Suburbia

My oldest son is headed to a public school next year in a suburb which has felt very minimal consequences from high stakes testing.  He previously attended a Waldorf school where high stakes testing simply doesn't exist. I am now joining the ranks of opt-outers and have begun my journey by putting it all on the table before we even start the school year.  Not only will it be interesting to see my son's transition into public school, it will also be interesting to share my own feelings about opting out now that I am also required to take action as a parent.  Here we go folks. My first letter. I'll keep you posted on our progress.


Hi Mr. ------------,

I thought it would be easier to email you since it said on the website that you respond more quickly to email :)  My name is Peggy Robertson and my son, Sam, is planning to attend -------- next fall - he will be in 8th grade. He has been enrolled at the Denver Waldorf School since the age of four, so this will be quite a transition for him!  I was hoping to visit -------- next week before you close for the summer and would love for Sam to get a peek in the school to get a feel for it.  Do you have any availability next week on Thursday morning?

I also thought I should give you a little background about me - I am a former public school teacher and I am one of the founders of United Opt Out National, the movement to end corporate education reform. If there is anything I can do to support you at --------- please let me know.  I will be opting Sam out of state testing (TCAP and MAPS) as well as any pretest booklets to prepare for these tests.  I wanted to let you know upfront so that it didn't come as a shock once Sam is enrolled. I know that Littleton is having minimal consequences from high stakes testing compared to the rest of the country, but I believe, as many parents and educators do, that if we halt high stakes testing (tied to teacher evaluation, school closings, holding students back a grade due to one standardized test score) we could begin to preserve and improve public schools and end the privatization that is occurring right now. 

Thanks Mr. ------- and I look forward to meeting you! Sam is so excited to attend --------.  Let me know what you think about next week and have a great morning.


Peggy Robertson

Administrator for United Opt Out National




Sunday, June 3, 2012

Thank You Wisconsin


In two days an election will occur that will ripple through my core and bring me to tears, no matter what the outcome. If we win, my emotions will be through the roof.  We owe so much to the people of Wisconsin. And so today I want to say thank you - as I grab your shoulders and look you in the eye with intense gratitude - thank you Wisconsin - my children thank you - our country thanks you. On election day I will get on the phone and call Wisconsin voters for several hours to remind folks to get out and vote.  It’s a small gesture, and not enough to thank those in Wisconsin who stood up for all of us across the country in a fight to save our democracy.

I owe much to Wisconsin.  Madison woke me up and with that awakening came a roaring from inside that could no longer be contained – years of anger with being silenced as a public school educator – years of watching our society look down on teachers while I smiled gracefully yet had no strategy for response – these years came to an end.

My first blog post “Are You There, Mr. President? Madison is Calling” was shared by Anthony Cody at Living in Dialogue - and after that I shut a door and opened another.  No longer could I sit back and watch from the sidelines.  No longer could I be content not understanding what was going on.  No longer did I blindly trust.  No longer did I assume I didn’t know enough, wasn’t smart enough or articulate enough to speak the truth.  Suddenly I realized the power I possessed – I was a teacher – I know how to teach and I can support others in learning how to end this madness called corporate education reform. We teachers often underestimate our talent, skill and knowledge - and society continues to try to keep us down.

While many called me obsessed (and still do), I recognized that I could no longer worry about what others thought about my intense focus on saving public education.  There was no time to doubt myself, it was time to act. It was time to be brave. I owed it to the children of our country who were suffering and whose voices to this day continue to be ignored.

I am often asked – has this changed me? Yes.  Am I hardened and cold with hatred flashing in my eyes?  Sometimes.  But mostly not.  Mostly I am scared and forever in awe that this is truly happening to our country while we continue to eat, sleep and watch our children grow. It seems unreal.  It drives me to write and put on paper what I cannot see in the faces of those around me – where is the urgency? Where is the face of anger and disbelief seen on those who have been robbed?  I am told everyone is so busy. The economy is so bad. I agree. But I also believe that if mainstream media focused on the dismantling of our democracy and the privatization of our public schools – if they shared the truths that education activists know – I do believe then, an uprising would be inevitable.  Every day we get closer and every day the resistance grows.

So, I do have great hope on Tuesday. But, I admit, I am scared. I am surrounded by many who have no interest in seeing Dictator Walker out of office. I am surrounded by many who hate unions and teachers and who believe this testing madness is good.  It is hard to continue this fight in an environment filled with those who do not understand that their democracy is crumbling.  So, while I am scared, angry and forever trying to grasp this reality that seems like a science fiction novel, I am also continually reminding myself to be patient with those who do not understand what is happening. I will continue to educate and create awareness.

This Tuesday, I will wait and watch, much like I did over a year go, when the people of Madison stood in the capitol chanting day and night - demanding to be heard.  I watched for days on end from my computer while intermittently turning on the TV to find nothing - nothing.  This memory of nothing to this day chills my soul - this country owned by corporations - telling the people of our country nothing.    

Today I send Wisconsin gratitude,  hope, love and the belief that together we indeed can end the privatization of our country and the dismantling of our democracy. 

Let us hope for one step forward. Yet, if there is one step back, I will be waiting. Ever so patiently.  Please turn to find me, and when you do, grab my hand tightly – and together - we will all walk forward once again. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sell Outs.


I just read a government document entitled Transforming the Teaching Profession which is signed by – among others – Randi Weingarten (AFT president) and Dan Van Roekel (NEA president).  I read this document and was highly impressed by the vague wording that made it sound like a kumbaya moment – yet, for those who know the true meaning, it’s more of the same garbage which hinges everything on teachers, standardized test scores and throws in a few lines about student health and nutrition at the end.

I shared the document on Facebook and commented, including Randi directly in my comment so she could see my thoughts. I wrote, “And signed by those who negotiate with children's lives - Randi Weingarten and Dennis Van Roekel. Love the vague wording. Just spit it out and call it what it is. The layman would need a secret decoder to understand it. But no worries, as they say, ‘It is in this spirit of collaboration that we offer this joint statement on elevating the teaching profession to improve the education of our students.’ ”

Randi wrote back, “Actually it is similar to what the countries that outcompete us do- its a value statement

I wrote, “Yes, and it is clear to me what is valued by those who signed it. Yet, as I stated, I don't believe it is clear to the rest of the country. Lots of vague wording that really translates to a focus on standardized test scores with minimal if any attention to sheltering children from poverty. Stephen Krashen says it best.http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2012/04/stephen_krashen_pulls_the_rug.html

Let me give a few examples from the document.  This statement comes toward the end of the document – rather telling simply in its placement at the end:  Further, we must be prepared to get the best teachers and principals to the highest-need students (including low-income students, minority students, English learners, and students with disabilities), and to ensure that all students have access to the other resources (such as technology; instructional materials; and social, health, and nutritional services) necessary to support their academic success.

Yes – first teachers who supposedly can overcome anything and then.....the other resources

So, in order of importance concerning “the other resources” we have:

Technology
Instruction materials
Social, health and nutritional services.

Wow.

And last but not least we have a discussion regarding communities – you know - those communities they are destroying as organizations charged with protecting children embrace corporate education reform ideology?  

Here’s the “Engaged Communities” piece at the end of the document: Finally, no community can flourish unless its children are safe, healthy, well-nourished, and well-educated; and no school can be a strong pillar of a thriving community without deep community responsibility for and ownership of the school’s academic success. Thus, recognizing that the fate of communities and their schools are inextricably linked, we must make schools stronger by educators embracing community resources, expertise, and activities; and we must make communities stronger by anchoring them around highly effective schools.

It really sounds lovely, especially the whole flourishing part. This final piece is going to be damn hard to put in place with kids scattered all over the map as they jump on a bus headed to a charter school.  It’s going to be really hard for teachers to engage with their communities when they are fired and replaced by SCABS – also supported by those who signed the document - as noted in the section titled Top Talent, Prepared for Success (where they discuss embracing alternative pathways to entering the teaching profession).  Can't imagine where all these community resources are going to come from considering all of our tax dollars are spent on high stakes testing.  And what ownership? Really?  They've stripped communities of all ownership.

The introduction to the three page document makes the focus and the need for collaboration clear – and it doesn’t include protecting children from poverty.

Improving student learning and educational equity require strong, consistent, and sustained collaboration among parents, teachers, school boards, superintendents and administrators, business leaders, and the community. And such improvements require that we all take responsibility for the academic and social well-being [underline added] of the students in our charge. It is in this spirit of collaboration that we offer this joint statement on elevating the teaching profession to improve the education of our students.

Academic and social well-being? Kind of hard if you’re hungry, tired or sick like the 21% of our children currently living in poverty.  What about them? How about physical and mental well-being?  Quit feeding the children high stakes tests while placing student and teachers in institutions ruled by fear – try that for starters.

Can you imagine how different things would be if they would write value statements about protecting children from poverty?

These are the kind of documents that make me want to spit nails – BS documents that are signed by those who are charged with protecting children.  Sell outs. Get them out of office and get in some real leaders who don’t negotiate with educators’ and children’s lives. And visit us at United Opt Out National to join our new Don't Negotiate campaign.