Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Awake in Indiana

What does it mean to be awake?  We hear that phrase a lot.  When will they wake up?  What will it take to wake the 99%? 

Simply look at Indiana.  While corporate education reformers circle and attack, Indiana folks are holding their ground - they recognize that all children in Indiana are entitled to a whole and equitable education.  They recognize that their tax dollars are being used to create a public school system that harms children and profits the 1%.

They are organized.

They ask questions that everyone should be asking:

What would it take to get people to understand how important education is? 
If testing doesn’t make schools better, then what does?
When and what are we going to do to stop standardized testing?
What can we do to help minority and lower income students who are disproportionately penalized by standardized testing? (E-CAT meeting notes)

These are the questions of those who are awake.  The questions dig deep, they involve action, and they plan for solution.

These are the kind of questions we want all children to be able to ask and explore. 

These are the kind of questions that could never be scored on a standardized test.

The parents in Indiana are standing their ground in the face of scare tactics outlined by the Indiana Department of Education.  Please remember that the DOE works for us.  Our children do not work for the DOE.  Our tax dollars are being used to privatize the public schools.  Our children – and their test scores – are being used to allow the 1% to profit and create a system of child labor which is abusive to all – but even more so to our neediest children.  Indiana parents are protecting their children by opting them out of the state test.

The Indiana Department of Education is currently attempting to implement a letter grade system for schools.  The system uses a bell curve.  34% will be viewed as high growth and 34% will be labeled as low growth.  Those in the middle are excluded from the reward category.  So, you can imagine, that even if you grew by leaps and bounds, you still might find yourself in the category of low growth, or simply average and not worth rewarding.  The penalties are steep.  20% of the schools would be labeled D and F and would be dismantled and handed over to those who privatize.

The system is set up to fail children and privatize public schools. And those of us who are awake will not allow it to happen.

If you are in Indianapolis, concerned community members are meeting this Thursday, February 2nd, at 6:00 p.m. at 1145 E 22nd Street, hosted by Opt Out Indiana and Parent Power Indianapolis.  You can contact both groups through their Facebook pages here and here. The Education Community Action Team (E-CAT) is meeting February 9th at 6:30 p.m. at 3819 Lafayette Rd.  Information can be found at www.innovateindy.org

Monday, January 23, 2012

What Does Enrichment Look Like?

This is what enrichment looks like in today's schools.

Definition of enrichment - act of making fuller or more meaningful or rewarding.

Enrichment - simply another word - co-opted in the name of corporate education reform, while sacrificing our children who deserve true enrichment. The FCAT will not make a child's life fuller, more meaningful, or more rewarding.  What more can be said.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Yelling from Who-ville. We Will Be Heard. Occupy the DOE in DC.

You’ve already heard the Whos in Who-ville haven’t you? 

The Whos were always there, while many of us basked in the Jungle of Nool, In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool…

Yet, it’s not so easy to bask these days, because once you have heard them in Who-ville, you cannot turn away.  Their voices, while often quiet and hard to hear, will chill you to the bones and rattle your world.

Here are a few of the voices that have been loud enough to be heard.

Mark Naison shares the voice of a principal: “Every Friday,” the principal said, “students in the school start crying because they(‘re) afraid they may have little or nothing to eat all weekend. The only time they know they are going to have three meals a day is on schools days.”

Mark Naison shares the voice of a teacher: “Our very well-liked principal, . . . conveyed the information he'd received from his superiors: the City intended to change our school to a Turnaround Model. The implications were not completely clear, but it almost certainly meant that we teachers and our supervisors would have to re-apply for our positions to come back in September 2012, and around half of us would not be re-employed. This news was shocking and deeply distressing to us. We have done everything we were asked to do by State and City. We have learned and implemented new technology for the classroom, spent hours in Professional Development, devoted an hour a week to working in Inquiry Teams, decorated our classrooms with student work, differentiated instruction, and redesigned all our lesson plans to introduce the Common Core Curriculum. We have done this conscientiously despite the doubts many of us had as to the efficacy of these innovations.”

A teacher who wishes to remain anonymous states, “I tried very hard to see both sides right up until about a year ago. Then, what used to seem like alarmist, drama-queen conspiracy theories about the hidden agenda to dismantle public education became undeniably true. I am aghast every day that no one seems to notice or care. I have been labeled as having a negative attitude in my building because I don't support goals that are solely based on one test. I have been saying, "if not me, then who?" for a long time. Now I think my days are numbered.”

The tiniest Whos are hard to hear, our youngest children, who suffer at the hands of those who care nothing for Who-ville, and pretend that Who-ville doesn’t exist.

But those of us who have heard the Whos know…

A person’s a person, no matter how small.

Once you hear them, what you hear, and what you know, makes it necessary to keep listening.  Your ears and eyes are open now. The distant whisper becomes a roar and soon you hear them in your sleep.

Yet the clock keeps ticking. One more learner drops by the wayside due to poverty.  One more kindergartner is held back a grade based on a standardized test – and now, that child, labeled a failure, begins to head down the school to prison pipeline. One more great teacher quits. And so we desperately say, “Yell louder!”

I know there’s a person down there.  And, what’s more, Quite likely there’s two.  Even three.  Even four.  Quite likely…a family, for all that we know! A family with children just starting to grow…..

In the meantime, the news just keeps flooding into Who-ville. Ravitch gives NCLB the Death Star.  Children continue to be required to sit in chairs and test test test, hours upon hours, weeks upon weeks.  Their test data is sold to private companies.  But does everyone hear? No.

We say, “Yell LOUDER!!!”  Meanwhile our democracy continues to crumble. 

What is everyone waiting for?  Does someone out there really think Gates will have a change of heart and listen to those horrible teachers?  Does someone really believe that Obama and Duncan are going to see the light and admit that RTTT is a complete nightmare?  Do we really think that any of them are willing to admit they are wrong – especially when doing so will cost them billions of dollars as well their own status as political game changers? Does someone truly believe that they are done profiting off of our children?  They won't be done until they have dismantled the entire public school system.

“What terrible splashing!” the elephant frowned.  “I can’t let my very small persons get drowned!”

No one is going to come to our rescue.  And by not speaking up, by not telling the truth, we continue to hurt CHILDREN.  By playing the game that the 1% has created, children are hurt, every day, in our public schools. 

The Wickersham Brothers came shouting, "What rot! This elephant’s talking to Whos who are not! "

The 1% pretends that Whoville doesn’t exist.

“All I heard,” snapped the big kangaroo, “was the breeze, And the faint sound of wind through the far-distant trees.”

But, we know that 1 in 4 children live in poverty.  We know that they are using these state test scores to dismantle our public schools, and destroy the Whos in Who-ville.

Find a way.  Find your voice in Who-ville.  And let it be known - high stakes testing is child abuse.  Attaching teacher pay to student testing is akin to child labor.  Leaving children to suffer at the hands of poverty – while telling them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps - is evil. It’s too hard to watch.  Too hard to stomach. We need to be heard in Who-ville.

They don’t hear a thing!  Are you sure all your boys Are doing their best?  Are they ALL making noise?  Are you sure every Who down in Who-ville is working?  Quick!  Look through your town! Is there anyone shirking?

Occupy the DOE in DC this March 30th to April 2nd or occupy your state’s DOE and get loud.  Opt out of corporate education reform.

Everyone in Who-ville is waiting on you.  We will be heard.

"This,” cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!
The time for all Whos who have blood that is red
To come to the aid of their country!” he said.
We’ve got to make noises in greater amounts!
So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”

We are waiting for YOPP.

Credit for all book quotes in italics: Horton Hears A Who!  By Dr. Seuss  And for those unfamiliar with the book, YOPP is the final word - spoken by the final Who in Who-ville which finally gets them heard!!!!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Reflections on National Opt Out Day

I was proud to be in Denver today. I love the educators in this state. There were quite a few at National Opt Out Day. During my last few years of teaching while I supported teachers, there was nothing more amazing then to get to peek in to another Colorado teacher’s classroom. These teachers are smart.  They are creative.  They are funny – you have to be to juggle 30 or more kids every day. They can be bold.  And they have heart.  When you get to spend time in a teacher’s classroom, you can feel that heart. I felt that heart again today as we gathered for National Opt Out Day.  I miss it.  There’s a lot of sadness that comes with fighting corporate education reform.  There is the personal sadness in knowing that my teaching days are over, prematurely.  And there is the sadness of remembering that feeling of teacher camaraderie that I sorely miss.  There’s nothing more amazing than working with a good team of teachers.  Together, teachers can move mountains.

Today we moved mountains in a different way.  And we had grandparents, parents, students and community members with us. We talked about our personal stories. We talked about the corporate education reform in Colorado. We talked strategy. Teachers shared their fears. Some day I foresee a therapy group for teachers.  If we could have pulled up chairs in a circle today, I would have readily started with “Hi, my name is Peggy, I’m a former teacher….”  Ah….the stories that could be told here.  Teachers Anonymous.  That’s not a joke. It’s becoming a necessity.

Much of what happened today in Denver will remain in Denver.  A lot of it was confidential.  Not a lot of pictures could be taken – teachers who fight corporate education reform must be careful.  Information on opting out was shared.  Everyone was eager to know – when will we meet again? 

We will meet again.

We live in the Rocky Mountains.  We are rugged.  We are daring.   We have initiative.  We have guts.  And we have gusto.  As I left National Opt Out Day it started to snow.  I had planned to go to the store already, and so I headed there, feeling tired but unable to quit thinking about the people I had met, and the hope I had felt.  When I got in to the store I was surrounded by a flurry of Coloradoans rushing to get groceries before the big storm.  I love going to the store before a big storm.  People maneuver their grocery carts with intent.  They are serious.  This is no joking matter.  This is a storm for God sakes!!  So filler up!!!!  Suddenly I found myself feeling the energy as well.  I piled my cart high.  Time to stock up…hunker down...for the big storm.

The check out girl just looked at me and shook her head.  “It’s always like this before a big storm.”  I smiled, she was right.  I had enough groceries for a month.

We know how to prepare for a big storm.  I personally love nothing more than a blizzard.  Over four feet of snow, with trails dug, like a maze from the mailbox to the front door makes me downright giddy.

Yet, we're already in the midst of the big storm.  We're all stocked up.  We are digging a trail, and we are going to find our way out of this corporate education madness. Today was just the beginning in Colorado.  A special thank you to everyone there, and a heart felt hug for a certain someone, who made me cry, but made me very grateful to be a teacher, to be a Coloradoan and to be counted with a group of educators, parents, students and community members who feel a moral obligation to do what is right for Colorado’s children.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

It Just Got Personal. Join Me. January 7th.

Read this update before reading the actual blog.  Update as of January 6th  - It has been confirmed that Tom Boasberg's children now attend public school in Boulder, Colorado.  Tom Boasberg is the superintendent of Denver Public Schools.  It is also confirmed that they live in Boulder.  If you aren't familiar with Boulder, take a gander here at the downtown area or here at information for visitors. I am told that his children only attended a Waldorf preschool.  While this conflicts with the information I was given, I have to go with the facts I receive from DPS.  If I receive any more updates, I will definitely share them.  But please know that I am stating for the record, that DPS has confirmed that his children ONLY went to preschool at the Waldorf school.  

In the meantime, recognize that regardless, my message still rings true.  The 1% send their children to the best schools - either private or the absolute best public schools, such as the school Arne Duncan sends his children to or the school where Obama's girls reside

Boulder, Colorado is a beautiful place. NeighborhoodScout, gives the Boulder schools a rating of 9 out of 10 (ten being the best).  One can compare this to Denver - which scored a 1 out of 10 (one being the worst). Of course, we can assume these ratings are based on test scores, which gives you a good idea of the poverty level in Boulder.  If we dig further we see that NeighborhoodScout lists Denver as having a student population in which 65.7 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged compared to Boulder in which 16.7 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged.  Quite honestly, it was a smart political move to transfer his children to the public schools if he plans on staying superintendent of DPS.

Yet, it still doesn't settle well.  Tom Boasberg lives in Boulder.  He is a member of the community of Boulder.  The very wealthy community of Boulder. NeighborhoodScout has the following to say about Boulder:  "Boulder home prices are not only among the most expensive in Colorado, but Boulder real estate also consistently ranks among the most expensive in America. Boulder is a decidedly white-collar city, with fully 90.59% of the workforce employed in white-collar jobs, well above the national average."  They have the following to say about Denver:  "Unlike some cities where white-collar or blue-collar occupations dominate the local economy, Denver is neither predominantly one nor the other. Instead, it has a mixed workforce of both white- and blue-collar jobs." 

All of this being said, he did indeed have his children at a Waldorf School.  I've received different information regarding the details.  If anyone can clarify, comment below.  I am posting this update now, even though I had hoped to have more information, because the story is running like wildfire here in Denver, and has been written about in local community newspapers, and I think it's important people know that the children are NOW at a public school, albeit, in Boulder, which is nothing like Denver, but all the same, I want my facts correct.

As you read this, you can pretty much replace Tom's name with any of the corporate ed. reformers currently running our public school system.  And perhaps it will help you to dig in your state, find out where your superintendent's children go, and make it a bit more personal for yourself as well.

This is the blog I posted January 4th, before I knew that they NOW attend public school.

Did you know that Tom Boasberg, Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, sends his child to a Waldorf School - where standardized high stakes testing doesn't exist? 

Not only does it not exist - the Waldorf philosophy completely disagrees with the concept of excessive, high stakes standardized testing.  In addition, while DPS gets to have fun Racing to the Top - did you know that Waldorf schools emphasize the importance of developmentally appropriate learning - and they allow children to grow, learn, and breathe, while exploring life through art, music and play?  While DPS kindergartners are being pushed to read, even when they aren’t ready, Waldorf students are not expected to learn to read until second grade.  

Ask me more about Waldorf.  I know this subject well.  My son goes to a Waldorf school. As a former public school teacher, I can tell you right now, that the reason I do what I do - fight for the preservation and improvement of public schools - is because I know - first hand - the difference between a Waldorf School and a public school that is required to submit to the demands of high stakes testing.  I know the harmful effects of high stakes testing - on children - teachers - and communities.

I KNEW that my child would get labeled ADD on his first day of kindergarten in a public school because he was NOT ready to learn to read and he would have drowned mentally, physically and spiritually in the face of high stakes testing. I KNOW that this is happening to children in our country every day.  I saw this happening here in Colorado, during my final five years of teaching while I worked with teachers, and had the unfortunate job of supporting schools in developing goals around CSAP test scores.  I had the unfortunate role of trying to help teachers force children to learn “enough” to avoid getting labeled in kindergarten. 

I feel personal guilt every day, knowing that my child is receiving something all children deserve - a whole education.  I feel personal guilt that I had to partake in CSAP propaganda and push the agenda of high stakes testing here in Colorado.

So, I must ask this question.  If Tom Boasberg is a Waldorf parent AND the superintendent of Denver Public Schools - one might wonder how he manages to balance these two roles and sleep peacefully at night? 

I, myself, felt like the devil incarnate as I forced CSAP down the throats of children in Colorado.  I know that most teachers indeed feel this way, and yet they live in fear of being fired should they speak up.  I also would have been fired, so I quit my teaching career early, and I am quite certain DPS, or any school district in Colorado, will never consider hiring me in the light of what I currently do. 

Waldorf School - berry picking field trip
Finding this out - about Tom Boasberg - made this even more personal – and I try damn hard not to let this get personal - but this is my town - this is my community.  And while I live here and find much of what I say landing on deaf ears, I sure as hell won’t stop saying it. Opt-Outers (as we fondly refer to one another) all know this job comes with a cost – it takes a personal toll on friendships and I will say straight up that I have lost friends as a result of my beliefs regarding the current state of public education.  Yet sometimes, it gets personal and I have to speak my mind.  Tom Boasberg has no right to force a corporate education reform agenda on Denver’s children while his child flourishes at a Waldorf school.

Denver Public Schools could provide all children a whole and equitable education.  High stakes testing will never get us there.  And classrooms in which teachers can still provide a whole and equitable education are decreasing every day, as high stakes testing punishes students, schools and communities.  The stakes are so high now, that subversive actions are not just difficult – they are beyond difficult – and teachers know they will be fired.  Just today I received a letter from a teacher – one of many letters – where teachers tell me they want to help our cause at United Opt Out National, but they are already on “the list.”  I frequently correspond with teachers who have an alias – this is what this has come to. We live in a world where teachers' hands are tied, children are forced to eat tests, poverty is ignored and they continue to chip away at the 99% - and will continue to do so until the public school system is completely privatized. That is their goal.

And then…I find out that someone who is responsible for the well being of all of the children in Denver, is sending his child to a school where there is NO high stakes testing and NO scripted textbooks (they create their own main lesson books at Waldorf schools).  I find out that the superintendent of DPS is sending his child to a school with art, PE, music, and more.  And we all know Obama sends his children to Sidwell. We all know that the 1% does not send their children to the public schools.  And yes, Boasberg is also a Broadie (yawn….old news..), and he never taught – well except for that so-called teaching English gig he says he did - (I know Denver folks, more yawning).

But for some reason this is different.  It got personal.  I know what Boasberg knows about public schools and about the personal experience of having a child in a Waldorf School.  The two cannot co-exist, without the absolute awareness/need/desire to save, preserve and improve public schools for all children - if you are a true educator.  And herein lies the problem.

our home
Colorado parents – opt your children out of the state test.  We can take down corporate education reform by refusing to give them the test data.  What is good enough for Tom Boasberg's child is good enough for all of the children in Colorado.

I don’t understand how Boasberg can sleep at night knowing his child is receiving a whole education, and the children of Denver are not – and it’s more than that – Denver's children are suffering – they are being abused at the hands of high stakes testing.  I am a Waldorf parent.  I am a public school teacher.  I cannot sleep at night.  This is why I do what I do. 

I hope Denver folks will join us this Saturday, National Opt Out Day, as we form plans to take down corporate education reform here in Denver.  Sometimes it helps to make it personal.  Sometimes it gives you the extra push you need to get out there and speak your mind, knees shaking and voice quivering.  It just got personal. 

See you Saturday, January 7th on the steps of our beautiful Capitol – west side – at noon – in Denver.

Our town.  Our home.  Our people.