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.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


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 and check out our website at United Opt Out National. Peggy (Wolf) Robertson.