Sunday, February 19, 2012

Looking the Other Way

This weekend I attended the Colorado People’s Assembly, a gathering of activists from across the state who are working hard to wake up Colorado. They have brilliant ideas and strategies – they weren’t crunching numbers to determine how the end result will create profit for a few.

I went to the Colorado People’s Assembly to help create community and to do a teach-in on the effects of corporate education reform.  It can be hard for me to speak objectively about these issues – these issues are wrought with pain for so many people – yet, I recognize that the facts, the stories, speak for themselves, and often that is all that needs to be told.  I try to share this information within the confines of an hour - not an easy feat and it is inevitable that after one of these talks I am pulled to the side and told another story that makes my hair stand on end and my throat tighten.

While the Occupy movement is surrounded by those who sneer, mock and laugh at the efforts of the 99%, I am always so honored and impressed by the people I meet at these events – highly educated citizens, grandparents, retired teachers and college students to name a few.  As I dig through my purse to pull out all the business cards I received (yes these people do indeed work) I am caught by Daniel’s card. 

Daniel talked to me about growing up in Detroit – how beautiful it was – the parks and the city.  He went back to visit recently and took pictures of the places he once knew.  Now, empty lots, nothing left but weeds and concrete.  He talked about seeing pockets of people sitting in chairs on the sides of an empty street – he said the looks on their faces told it all – they had given up.  In Michigan, where many emergency financial managers rule, cities have been stripped of everything, many neighborhoods no longer have access to a fire department, police department or ambulance service.  Daniel took a lot of pictures while he was there.  I want to see them.  When Daniel has another gathering of folks from across Colorado he plans to invite me as well so I can look at these atrocities first hand, and again listen to the narrative of someone who knows the before, and the after.

During my session I met the most amazing college students.  They asked hard questions.  How do we get other college students to care?  How do we get them to our meetings?  This is OUR future, they said.  Yes, it is their future, and mine, and my children’s future.  It is all of our futures. 

I was asked, how do we help wake people up? I hear a lot of solutions to these questions which include coalition building, sharing the research to counter the bullshit spouting from the mouths of profit mongers, engaging in civil disobedience, writing legislation, to simply focusing on the good in people – the passion – the relationships to community and those we care about.  I see all of these attempts being made now.

Yet, many still look the other way.  

credit MissPronouncer
I am often asked, when did I wake up? This is a discussion that activists often engage in - what did it take to push you out into the public light?  It took Wisconsin to push me forward.  Watching a legislator place his desk on the front lawn of the capitol during the reign of Scott Walker was my breaking point.  And it was also the point at which I took a deep breath, grinned and said, I’m with you and here we go - and once you open your eyes to what is true - there is no turning back.  If that man, pictured above, can haul his desk out on the lawn in defiance of King Walker’s ruling - meant to keep the legislator from his constituents - I sure as hell can speak up for teachers and children who are being slowly starved under the federal mandates and privatizers circling their heads.

I work with a group of educators at United Opt Out National who are asking for one act of civil disobedience.  The request is to have parents opt their children out of the state test.  This request is necessary and currently the one loophole that has not been closed by the corporate education reformers.  This act of civil disobedience will shut down the privatization of our public schools - it will allow us the space needed to regain what is rightfully ours - a whole and equitable education for all children.  I recognize that there is fear in opting out of the state test. I recognize that it requires great bravery on the part of parent and child.  I recognize that by doing so, your community might ostracize you.

Yet, in a time when our most needy children are being asked to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make sure their eyes “track the speaker” while receiving massive doses of test prep – I must ask – how can we look the other way?  These children are not allowed to look the other way.  These children often face punishment and face being shamed in front of their school community. 

Are President Obama's children required to track the speaker or face punishment?  Do President Obama's children spend extended hours in school and attend a Saturday test prep class?  Do President Obama's children get denied recess, art or PE when they score poorly on a test prep item?

I receive a lot of stories from teachers about students with disabilities.  Rebel Speducator speaks to this better than anyone I know.  She is brave and she puts herself out there – a teacher who could get fired for speaking her mind.  I know first hand what it is like to work with special needs students, as a sister and as a teacher.  I remember the anger my mother felt when my sister brought home a worksheet with a sad face (drawn by her teacher). My sister reads at a very low level and has difficulty speaking; while she hears quite well, sign language has supported her efforts to communicate. I can’t imagine the anger and rage my mother would have felt had my sister been forced to endure relentless hours of standardized testing which would not have served her best interests.  Special needs students are forced to sit – often in tears - at desks where they fill in bubbles to test items they cannot understand - nor would it serve them well to understand these test questions. Simultaneously, profiteers are placing more money in their pockets.

While this happens, many look the other way.

I am reminded again and again by ever patient friends and activists, that history shows that people have always looked the other way.  And then, when the atrocities were reported, published and documented, everyone said – I had no idea that was going on.

Well, it is going on.  It is going on now.  And while these atrocities may not be in your backyard at the present time, they will be in your grown children’s backyard.  I question what our country will look like then, with leaders who grew up in a public school system that did not prepare them for creative, critical and conceptual thinking.  How will they tackle the many problems facing our world?  I wonder how many of these children will enter the school to prison pipeline - already we imprison 25% of the world's population - how many more will there be as a result of punitive high stakes testing?

I know of parents who are “quietly” opting out of the state test.  I commend you.  But, I dream of the parents who are ready to take on the system and blatantly call for a mass opt out, in an effort to stop the starvation methods currently being imposed on our public schools.  A mass opt out would - without question - halt privatization and the punishments currently penalizing our neediest students and communities. 

I am continually asked, “I am afraid to opt out – will it hurt my school?”  Your school has already been hurt  - and the level of hurt varies by school.  While some children are placed in militarized school environments, others are displaced as their neighborhood school is closed. Many are booted out of charter schools where they didn’t quite “fit in.”  Children are suffering under the mandates of Race to the Top - incessant test prep and testing, no art, PE, music, recess or developmentally appropriate play.  If you think standardized testing is useful and necessary, I can simply say, that is not the case.  It is the least valuable information I have ever received about my students.  My students were so much more than a standardized test score.  Need research?  Go to for more information - the proof is there. Are you wondering how in the world teachers will know what their students have learned?  Just ask them - give them the respect they have been denied - they have many alternative assessments they use daily to determine your child's strengths, attempts and next steps. Do we want to slowly starve our schools while increasing corporate profit - or do we want to stop the madness now and regain control and demand equity and opportunity for all children in our public schools? Without the test data, they cannot punish your school.  Without the test data, they lose profit -and they will be forced to listen.

While Finland focuses on equity within their schools, America focuses on competition – with severe punishments for the losers and major profit for the 1%.  While many look the other way, the profiteers are taking this opportunity to treat education like a product and students like widgets – and in order to do this, it is necessary to remove the emotional or human factor from the process.  They/the corporate education reformers – have wooed the public with words like choice, accountability, innovation and customizable. 

They use these words to fool parents into believing they have choice - but when these privatization strategies have been put into place -  while saying on your mark, get set, go – we continue to see large groups of runners left behind.  You see, that is how a race "to the top" works - and therefore, left behind, are...

those who couldn’t understand the English words that were spoken at the beginning of the race, 

those who are physically challenged,

those who are wise to the race and know it is rigged - therefore they just don't race,

those who are tired and too hungry to run,

those who have asthma, or other illnesses, and are too weak to run,

those who are poor runners and would have found more success demonstrating their talent with a musical instrument, a speech, a science project or art canvas, 

those who fear competition or racing and simply want to relish in the pure joy of what it feels like to run as a child – not to win a medal, 

those whose special needs are ignored and neglected – because customization for this group simply doesn’t fit within the race parameters,

those who are simply too slow,

those who were already losing, so they left the race and headed down the school to prison pipeline,

those who had no transportation to arrive at the race,

those who didn't make the cut to even participate in the race,

those who are counseled out of the race for fear of causing the group to lose points,

those who have no shoes and who are simply thankful that their teacher brings them a clean shirt to wear every Monday, taken home by the teacher on Friday, to be washed and brought the next Monday – the last thing on their minds right now, is a Race to the Top - they are simply trying to survive.   

The children of the 1% are not racing (a.k.a. President Obama, Arne Duncan et al.).  These children are enjoying an education filled with beautiful school buildings, ample resources, dedicated and respected teachers, fine arts, developmentally appropriate learning, field trips for all, and healthy food for lunch.

Is there some reason anyone reading this believes the education for the 1% is not meant for all of America's children?  And, if you do believe it is meant for all - then why do we allow America's children to endure abuse while the children of the 1% thrive and enjoy learning and childhood? Why are we spending billions of dollars on testing when the schools of the 1% would never waste their money on such testing? Our president's children do not have to take mandated standardized state testing with punitive consequences for those who score poorly. When will the masses begin to question the corporate education reformers who profit - and have decided - that testing - at the expense of everything that represents real learning - is simply what our children need?

Now, in the public schools of the 99%,  they have pit student against teacher - they are all starving under the mandates - a slow gut wrenching death of our public schools filled with fear, anger and entrapment.  They have created a scenario so evil I cannot fathom teaching in this country today – now some teachers - fearful - hands tied - will say, run students run – if you don’t run I may get fired, I may lose my bonus, I may receive a poor evaluation printed in the newspaper, and our school may be closed – you simply must run.

These children have lost their childhood. 

It is the stories of all these children, that make it impossible to look the other way, and it is why I implore all parents to rise up and opt out - not just for your child - but for all of America's children.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Parental Rights in the Kingdom of Colorado

Things are brewing here in Colorado – or should I say boiling. The events over the last few months have been an eye opener to say the least.

We can begin with the petition I sent out this fall.  This petition spoke to the negative effects of high stakes testing and has received close to 4,000 signatures.  The petition states:  Colorado school children are spending too much time on standardized tests and not enough time learning. These tests do nothing to actually help the students who take them. Worse yet, politicians are using the results of these tests to justify deep budget cuts for public schools and to punish good teachers. It's time to end the era of high-stakes standardized tests in Colorado. We, the undersigned, demand that the era of high-stakes standardized tests in Colorado must end immediately.

We thought Governor Hickenlooper might be interested in this petition.  I had planned to hand deliver it to him.

We also thought he might like to learn about the parental rights bill (HB12-1049) introduced in this state legislature session titled:  Parental Rights Regarding Statewide Ed. Assessment. The bill summary states: The bill prohibits a public school from penalizing a student whose  parent does not allow the student to take all or part of a statewide student  assessment.  Further, the department of education shall not lower a public school's attainment level on the accreditation performance indicators or otherwise penalize a public school due to a parent's refusal to allow his or her child to participate in statewide student assessments.

We wanted to share a second bill which reduces state testing and increases preschool funding.  HB12-1091 summary states:  The bill removes the provisions of the Colorado student assessment program that require the department of education (department) to administer statewide assessments in certain subject matters to students in certain grades. Statewide assessments administered by the department shall not exceed federal requirements for the administration of assessments of students. The bill states that for the 2012-13 budget year and for each budget year thereafter, the general assembly intends to appropriate to the department, for the purposes of the Colorado preschool program, the general fund savings realized in implementing the provisions of the bill.

It seemed the right time to request a meeting with Governor Hickenlooper.  So we did.  He works for us - right?

The request for the meeting simply stated:  We would like to meet with the Governor regarding upcoming education policies, budget priorities, and concerns regarding children and education. During this time, we'd like to present a petition with more than 4,000 signatures from parents across Colorado requesting a reduction in state testing. While I've listed a date and time according to the required fields, we will accommodate a meeting at any date or time within the next two months. It is important that we meet directly with the Governor. Thank you.

The sponsors for this meeting included: Uniting4Kids and the Coalition for Better Education.

Yet, Hickenlooper declined the meeting.

I received this email from Angela Engel of Uniting 4 Kids:

I thought I'd just let you know that Governor Hickenlooper declined to meet with parents. The proposed meeting date and time was open ended so this is a clear refusal to hear to the concerns of parents. Education decisions will continue to be made by those working outside of education - big business and government. Please inform your members that the request for 50 parents to meet with our Governor for 30 minutes, was denied.

Thank you,

Funny how the state of Colorado feels more like a kingdom than a democratic state built on democratic values.  I am exaggerating?  I don’t think so.

So, let me continue….

Recently I wrote a blog about Tom Boasberg, Superintendent of Denver Public Schools.  Tom Boasberg lives in Boulder. His kids go to school in Boulder.  Yet, he represents and serves the children of Denver.

David Sirota writes, “Boasberg, you see, refuses to live in the district that he governs. Though having no background in education administration, this longtime telecom executive used his connections to get appointed Denver superintendent, and he now acts like a king. From the confines of his distant castle in Boulder, he issues edicts to his low-income fiefdom — decrees demonizing teachers, shutting down neighborhood schools over community objections and promoting privately administered charter schools. Meanwhile, he makes sure his own royal family is insulated in a wealthy district that doesn’t experience his destructive policies.”

If you are unfamiliar with Boulder, here’s a brief synopsis from my previous blog on Boasberg:
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."

Boasberg and Hickenlooper have something in common. You see, Hickenlooper is also a millionaire with a net worth estimated between five and ten million.  

It seems that Governor Hickenlooper is as detached from his constituents as Boasberg. He has declined to meet with parents – when the meeting time and date were left open and flexible to meet his needs.  What about our needs? 

I wonder what it will take to turn the tide on the corporate kingdom ruling our state?

I, for one, am not waiting around to bow down to Hickenlooper, Boasberg, or any of the millionaires running our state with little understanding of the needs of the 99%.

The politicians.  The leaders.  The media.  Have. Been. Bought.

Would you like to regain some of your parental rights – or better yet – let’s restate that – there’s no need to regain them, they’ve always been there. We simply trusted, while unknowingly, decisions were being made to dismantle our democracy.  We need to reclaim what is ours.

Start here. 

Sign the petition.

Support the Parental Rights bill

Support the bill to reduce state testing and increase preschool funding.

And begin to use your voice.

The petition and the bills are the catalyst to allow us to regain what is rightfully ours.  The governor and the superintendent work for us; we are the taxpayers paying their salaries.  Don’t forget who is in charge here.

Come to the capitol on February 9th  to share your testimony at the committee hearing regarding the need for the Parental Rights Bill (HB12-1049), Room 0112, State Veterans & Military Affairs (upon adjournment of House Assembly - plan to be there around 9:30 a.m.).  Come to the capitol on February 23rd to share your testimony regarding the need to reduce state testing and expand preschool placement for at-risk children (HB12-1091) - also Room 0112 - and also at 9:30 a.m.

Let the bills and the petition be a catalyst to return a whole and equitable education to all children.  Currently “choice” within our public schools represents only choice for a few.  Let’s begin by halting high stakes testing, so that the corporate education reformers no longer have the data to punish our students, teachers, schools and communities.

And then, let’s do what our leaders should have done. Let’s remind Colorado about the foundation of our democracy:  equal opportunity for a whole education for all of Colorado’s students.  And let’s make it happen.  If you take away their data, they will be forced to listen.