Saturday, December 14, 2013

But if you close your eyes...

This week and the past few weeks I've spent a lot of time thinking about teaching before NCLB and RTTT.  

My students opened a restaurant once. We had to do all the math to determine the supplies needed for the pasta, bread, etc. Each of the children applied for jobs at the restaurant. They filled out job applications and we had job interviews. We got creative with marketing our restaurant, creating our menu, and more. We went to the grocery store and we shopped for the supplies for our restaurant and interacted with our community. We had to determine how to use the restaurant space and organize creatively. We cooked and had to make our own pasta noodles from scratch. We worked with the cooks in our school to time everything according to the restaurant schedule the students created, in order to open the restaurant to all of the parents and family who wanted to attend. I am sure the teachers reading this right now are beginning to create a list of the many many skills embedded into such a project. But really what I want to talk about is  how confident my students were - how articulate - how creative - and how engaged they were in making sure that every last detail of our restaurant and our work was ready for the authentic experience (audience) of opening day - how they had to problem solve together - on-the-go - to solve problems because our restaurant was OPEN and we had to be professional and be ready for business.

I also recall getting a grant to allow my sixth grade students to work at a nursing home for a semester. We wrote about our experiences with the residents of the home. We became friends with them. We planted flowers in their flower boxes as we worked alongside them. We created a performance for them with songs, a play and more. We built relationships. My students had compassion and empathy. We loved the men and women who looked forward to our visits every week.

I recall having an entire day of learning outside - just because. We decided to make it a creative "outside" day. We would write sitting under the trees. We would play games, read, and just enjoy the feeling of learning outside. 

I remember working with a class to create multiple service learning projects. We planned and implemented a neighborhood food drive. We served food at the soup kitchen on the weekends. We interacted with activists across the country to find ways to best help our community. We looked across our community and asked the question "What do we need and how can we help?"

When I taught kindergarten we cooked every week. At the end of the year each child went home with a full-on recipe box of recipes they could cook. They learned about math, reading and science....they learned to work together at their tables where they each had their own mixing bowl, measuring spoons and cups. We wrote about what went well, what didn't. We loved cooking day. 

I now find my work with children to be every bit as wonderful as before. The children are amazing - that never changes. The mandates are absurd and abusive. I am involved in testing more than I would like to be. I am a coach so I am not required to do as much testing as a teacher, but even so, it is too much. I refuse what I can, but the mandates and the pushback increases daily. I find that this testing regime has become so "normal" that it is rarely questioned. Testing young first graders using bubble sheets is the norm - how did we get here? And why aren't more screaming in protest - parents and teachers? 

And now to the present...if you close your eyes......

This past Tuesday and Thursday night I attended events involving orchestras, bands, choirs - all exceptional and beautiful at my son's high school. I would like to just close my eyes and enjoy it and believe that these experiences I am having exist everywhere in our country. I am lucky. These experiences are growing more rare by the day.  And then, as a teacher, I no longer can attend an event or even enter a school without looking around and surveying the doors, the windows, the hallways to determine how someone might get in. I think things that I try to shift to the back of my brain and pretend I didn't think them. I can't close my eyes anymore. I can't close my eyes to the fear of death, the fear of the mandates, the fear of the complete destruction of public education. There is fear everywhere. The fear of my own ability to handle what I see other educators handle - as they find themselves and their students in harm's way.  There are fears I cannot speak for fear that what I speak will come true. The unspoken is so well known in our public schools today.  It is everywhere even though the words do not leave our lips.

Then this Friday my school is placed on lockdown. I was in the midst of working in the most amazing classroom with a brilliant teacher and beautiful children. I was sitting on the floor reading books and talking about the characters in the book. Laughing. Problem-solving words. Flipping back to the beginning to make sure we understood the mystery that was unfolding. Watching children help one another dig through a story because they wanted to find out what would happen. They were engaged. They were happy.

And then I read the email as required after we are placed on a lockdown. It said there was a shooting at Arapahoe High School. I read it, went back to my group of my students and began to read again. As a teacher, there is that moment during a lockdown of "not thinking" when you are placed in these situations - you go on auto pilot. And then it sinks in. I was trying to register why my school was on lockdown.  I knew Arapahoe High School. It is blocks from my house. It is my son's school district. My son is not at Arapahoe, but many of his friends are. Many of our neighbors are.  So, my son was on lockdown and I knew his friends at Arapahoe were in harm's way. 

When my school district was taken off lockdown I left. I went to pick up my son at his high school. He was going to take the bus home, but the buses were all being used to transport the Arapahoe students out of their high school. I picked him up. We went home. We went out to dinner. We went to a vigil. We came home.  We talked about the families and friends at Arapahoe. We talked about the fear, those who were injured. I tried to figure out what this means for my son. I don't know. And now it is Saturday. I am still on auto pilot.

Another day. I can't close my eyes. I want to return to my kindergarten class where we cooked. I want to return to my sixth grade class where we visited the nursing home. I want to return to the day when I could send my son to school and never think for one second the thoughts that I now push to the back of my brain, and then breathe deeply, and move on. 

On the way home from the choir event on Thursday Sam plugged in his Ipod and played this song. We blasted it. It was just the two of us. Myself and my fourteen year old son. I think about all the time and energy I use to fight the things that harm children. I think about how often I am met with silence, those who have given up, those who simply walk away. I think about how quickly things can change. How quickly it can all be taken from us. I wonder if I am making the most of every moment - as a teacher, an activist and mostly, as a parent. And then I remember sitting in the driveway blasting this song and singing with Sam on a Thursday night. Not knowing the unknown. But if I close my eyes.....

Eh-eh-o eh-o [8x]

I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Grey clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

We were caught up and lost in all of our vices
In your pose as the dust settled around us

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Grey clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
If you close your eyes

Eh-eh-o eh-o [8x]

Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?
Oh oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Grey clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?

Eh-eh-o eh-o [8x]

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Defeat Speaker of the House Boehner: TOM POETTER for Congress 2014

Tom Poetter is a friend, an educator, and a man who takes truth to action. I will be supporting this campaign and I hope that you will share this post, contribute to his campaign, and recognize that while all of us may not live in Ohio, we must begin to support candidates nationwide who can help us reclaim our democracy. Tom will.

Here is his personal website and Facebook page.  Please email this post, FB it, and tweet it.

I just received the following update from Tom:

Please Support Our Campaign to Defeat John Boehner in 2014, US HOUSE RACE -- OHIO'S DISTRICT 8

We are ready to launch our year long campaign to unseat Speaker Boehner in 2014.  Over the past several days, we have received some major media attention regarding the campaign.  You can read Monday's Newsweek article here and The Cincinnati Enquirer article from last Friday here.

We know that running will take a national fundraising effort in order to compete with Speaker Boehner's campaign war chest.  However, the campaign begins at home with family, friends, professional colleagues, and acquaintances.   But no matter where you live, please join us in bringing representation back to the people of District 8, bringing true leadership back to Ohio, and bringing integrity back to Congress.  By the way, I sent this to you because I know you and hope you'll join our campaign, not because I necessarily know your political orientation.  Take the step of putting a strong citizen who will represent you and all Americans back in this seat.

You can easily donate to our campaign here.  You can also donate to the campaign by writing a check made out to "Poetter for Congress" and by mailing it to Poetter for Congress, C/O Glenn Rymer, Treasurer, 6440 Fairfield Road, Oxford, Ohio 45056.  Please consider making a donation of $25, $50, $100, or even $250 to help us launch this effort.

Please also join us on Twitter @poetter4house and Facebook at "Tom Poetter 4 Congress District 8 Ohio."  Let your friends and family know that we are running, and that we need their votes, communication with other supporters, and financial support going forward.  Please forward this email to friends and relatives and encourage them to join us. 

I am personally invested in this campaign.  I'm willing to give time and money and heart to the work ahead.  Please consider donating and volunteering, on the ground and through social media.

Many Best Regards, 

Tom Poetter

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Quick Guide to Resisting from Within for Educators

I get asked a lot about what it’s like to teach in the public schools while knowing the truths about corporate education reform. Obviously, the two worlds collide. And I have spent many a night trying to figure out how to describe it – and how to write about it - so that you might also know what it feels like.  This is my attempt for those of you who do not teach in the public schools today.

It is surreal. It is so strange to watch the world crumbling down around you with such harshness and such coldness, while inside the walls of the school we continue to carry on, care for the children and fight to give them what every child deserves.  As teachers, we fight to support one another - as human beings and as professionals. We fight to keep it together as we watch the corporate snakes slither in through the cracks and the crevices in our building.  We shudder and hold the children close to us when others open the door wide and let the corporate snakes glide across the floor and make our building their own.

Yet, we must carry on because the children are always watching.

Have you ever had a bad day – a day in which you wanted to cry, or scream, or throw things; yet, you refrained from doing so because the children were watching. That is how it is every day for teachers who know the big picture - within the public schools. Every day we are protecting the children as best we can, without sharing - through our actions, our words, our teaching, our emotions - the horrors of the destruction making its way into our schools. Based on the ages of the children, this looks different - as some things are appropriate to share with older children.  However, it can be like a dysfunctional relationship of the worst kind – in which you must continually find ways to resist and find ways to protect while keeping the snakes at bay – knowing that they will continue to search for ways to manipulate you and the system – in order to get what they want. And that is how it works – they often get what they want because of the mandates in place in our public schools. And in the process, you get harmed, the children get harmed, and much of it is never discussed due to fear, due to retribution, due to fear of what could happen – the unknown.

The unknown keeps many from taking risks. Many believe they have no choices. And so, it only gets worse as the snakes multiply.  More children lose their childhoods. More children view themselves as failures. More children will be trained to obey and comply as they are groomed to be worker bees in a world which is being reshaped to benefit only the .01%. More children head down the school to prison pipeline.

Now that I have attempted to describe it, I want to share how I resist it. I began to make a list some time ago to document the many ways I work to resist the corporate snakes who slither around my feet and try to strangle the love of learning out of my school, leaving my children to starve in a world of tests, test prep and coldness - corporate reform is cold, very cold. The following is simply a quick guide to resisting from within. Because when you know what it feels like – which is very different than just hearing about – you have two choices, give up in some shape or form or find ways to resist. It’s very simple. You have to make a choice.

Here’s my list.  Feel free to add to it. There is much more I am sure, and as teachers we are moving so fast all day, we often don’t take stock, or give ourselves credit, for all that we do to wake up the world and reclaim authentic learning and teaching for our public schools and our children.

1.  Look at where you came from. What is your story? Recognize  and use your strengths.

I am a small town girl from Missouri. My father was a political reporter. My mother was a music teacher. My oldest sister has special needs. I grew up knowing what it was like to be viewed as different. I grew up knowing what it was like to be shunned. I also grew up knowing that the truth speaks. Missouri is, after all, the Show Me State. I grew up watching my mother teach and stay before, after school, for choir practice, performances and more. I watched her spend her own money to become Orff certified. She is the best music teacher I have ever seen and she received little respect for it.  My father is a brilliant writer and served as press secretaries for political candidates, wrote speeches for senators, worked for newspapers, wire services, and more. He played the game of politics which is addictive, full of gambles, full of ego and full of the unknown. We experienced many hardships as a family, as jobs were lost due to political candidates losing, due to one particular  candidate dying in a helicopter crash, due to cuts in UPI when the office was shut down in our little Missouri town, and more. We lost many gambles.  I grew up knowing that stability was a gift and that you needed to look around you and know the big picture and know yourself, because the view right in front of you may change tomorrow and you must know where to turn within and outside yourself when it does. I learned that listening and watching is key to knowing the big picture.This is who I am. I learned that education was important. I learned that writing could change the world. I learned that humanity can be kind and also very cruel. I learned that I had a voice and I had to use it. These are my strengths.

2. Open the door.

I know the teachers reading this have been told again and again to shut the door and do what is right for children. I beg of you, begin to open the door. Open it and let the light burst into the hallways. Let them hear your children laughing, singing, learning and engaging in what is real and true. When the children are not allowed to do so, open the door and let the world see this as well - let them see what corporate education looks like. Invite the parents to come in and help. Let them see the truths – good and bad – the parents will watch, listen and many will act to ferociously protect the children from the dangers that lurk in our buildings.

3.  Be humble.

It is never good to allow ego to lead the way.  Activism can have an ego. Avoid it; it will get you no where and it may lead you down the wrong path. Enough said.

4.  Choose your words carefully.

This one is essential – absolutely essential. We must not use words that confirm or give credit to the corporate education movement. Remember what you know. Look up the words and question what you hear. Words such as rigor, compliant, defiant, punitive have no place in a public school.  When you hear others say these words, gently rephrase them when you respond – this will give you great pleasure as you will begin to see a cultural shift.  If you continue to do this, over time reality will change as language does indeed shape our world.  Choose your words carefully in writing as well; make sure these corporate words do not become the language used inside your students’ homes.

5.  Read.

We must read and educate ourselves. Always. And we must read from sources that are credible, sources who are in the trenches - sources who are not profiting off of public education and our children. There are many books and blogs to read – a few to start with include,, ,, the BATS and of course our own site . Form a book club if you like. Get the Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch immediately.

6.  Align yourself with like-minded folks.

They can be hard to find. However, if you begin to get involved online via Twitter, Facebook and the various sites I listed above, you will begin to find them. Perhaps these friends will not be next door; but this will not matter, you will find that friends far away can offer you support and love even when they are not there.

7.  If you have children, refuse the test for them. If possible, share opt out/refusal information with other parents.

As teachers, we must not allow our children to take these tests. We must be a model for others around us.  I am happy to help anyone with this strategy. Do not allow your own children to labor for the corporations. Share opt out/refusal information with other parents if you can; there are ways to do this without your name being attached to it - find a parent to help you.

8.  Look at your day and the Conditions for Learning.

Are you meeting the conditions - for you? For your children? I use it as my barometer. I ask myself daily as I work with children...Will this engage them and further the purpose their lives? 

9.  Create portfolio assessments for your students whether or not it is required.

Children deserve to SEE their growth as it actually occurs over time. Parents deserve to know the strengths, attempts and next steps of their children by viewing authentic student work. Teachers have the right to assess their students in a way that is authentic and supportive in planning for instruction. Do not allow mainstream media to continue to create mass amnesia! I am continually asked, “Without the tests, how will we know if students have learned?” TEACHERS KNOW HOW TO ASSESS. Don’t let them forget (while banging a pan upside their head). Here is a letter for parents who might wish to advocate for portfolio assessment - unbeknownst to you of course - in your school.

10.  Advocate for yourself.

I learned this long ago. If you do not advocate for yourself expect to be trampled on. There is always someone available to trample on you, take advantage of you, and bully you. Learn how to advocate for yourself. I know this can be hard, which is why I love the quote, “Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.”  Reach out to other activists to support you in this process.

11.  Respect colleagues and do not gossip.

Teachers are already bashed enough without us adding to it.  Respect them. Support them and listen to them. Collaborate and have patience. We each have our strengths and we each have our burdens to bear – these are not easy times. Together we are stronger.

12.  Get involved in your union and join if you haven’t.

We must occupy our unions. We are the union. We must reclaim our union and we must not stand by when we see them taking actions which harm our schools, our children and our profession. Find a way to get involved. Read The Future of Our Schools by Lois Weiner.

13.  Analyze actions, not heart.

We cannot get inside the heads of those who are currently hell bent on enforcing mandates and creating avenues to profit off of our children while destroying the public schools and ultimately our democracy. I, myself, find it difficult to do this one. As a teacher, I spend many a day getting to know students so that I can best determine how to support them – it is my nature – I want to see their heart…their passions. However, this is different, I cannot get inside the head of Obama, or Duncan, or Weingarten, or Roekel or Gates. I can simply analyze their actions and determine my next step based on what I see. Do not waste time trying to see what is in their hearts – spend your time analyzing their actions so that you can see patterns and red flags that will allow us to strategize and win this fight.

14.  Be okay with disequilibrium and take risks.

If you grew in a world of disequilibrium, this will not be hard to do. This is one of those examples of utilizing your strengths – this may be a strength for you. If you did not get raised in such an environment, disequilibrium can be difficult. When you feel it, recognize that feeling and look around and see what is happening – are you still alive? Are you breathing ?  Of course you are :). Own that feeling and know that disequilibrium is often accompanied by the ability to take risks.  Some risks will be successful, others will not – and being okay with that is essential to moving forward. We must be okay with the unknown at times and trust that the risks we take will allow us to grow and learn from the experiences we have. Love your routines, but also love stepping outside of them to ask …what if?

15. Reflect and ask questions.

Do not assume anything is the truth unless you have had it verified via research or via someone you would trust your life with – I cannot stress this one enough. Perhaps it sounds harsh, but my radar is always on and I do not blindly trust – ever. We have already lost too much by trusting.

16.  Use your own creativity to support your work as you resist from within.

I watch some activists share their truth via statistics. Others share the truth via words. Others sing, rap, dance, write poetry, and make jokes. Some paint. Others create comics. Use your own creative strengths to resist from within. Sometimes I just watch and smile at all these amazing activists whose passions are felt and seen so clearly in the way they express themselves. Remember, we do have heart, and people can see it and feel it – and THIS spurs action.

17.  Use your teacher knowledge to deconstruct the madness of corporate education reform.

For example, here I use the Conditions for Learning to let Obama know how ridiculous and harmful RTTT is. What do you know? How can you use it to debunk the corporate ed. reformers who know nothing about teaching and learning?

18.  Ignore the mandates around you however you can.

This is different for everyone so I cannot advise. I know what works for me. Find out what works for you – there are ways to ignore and refuse to participate in common core, test prep and more. I simply ask myself, at the end of day, did I listen to my students? Did I help engage learners and did they see how their learning will further the purpose of their lives? If I didn’t do that, something has to change. Make changes however you can and do not berate yourself because it wasn’t good enough – or you think you should have done more – you will always wish you could do more. Try again tomorrow. Nothing is forever. Change is always possible.

19. Use social media.

It’s a must. It’s how we have organized thus far. It allows us to reach each other no matter the distance, no matter the schedules of each individual. Tweet it. Facebook it Email it. Youtube it. Vine it. Blog it. Vlog it.  Pick the tool that works for you and do it. Get the information out there. 

20. Listen to the children.

Your students must be heard. The corporate reformers do not listen to them. The mandates ignore their needs. They must be heard. Get to know them. Listen to them and you will find many many ways to resist from within by listening to their passions, their fears, their strengths, their desires and their knowledge. Observe. Listen. And use this knowledge to empower them as learners and as citizens of our democracy. 

21.  Be kind to yourself. 

I know there are many out there who tell you that you should quit and leave the profession rather than stay and be a part of a system that harms children. However, I say, be kind to yourself, and know that your resistance from within protects children and gives them more authentic learning experiences than any teacher as technician ever could.  Your resistance from within helps adults see the need for urgent change – your resistance from within may well indeed be the catalyst to create an uprising to reclaim what is rightfully ours. Just know that no one is going to do it for us.  Just know, that if you do leave they/corp. ed. reformers will applaud you as you walk out the door and will replace you with a teacher as technician who knows nothing about how to support the beautiful children in your building – children who deserve everything the children of the .01% are getting. So, be kind to yourself, stay if at all possible, and know that you are creating change. Know that others, such as myself, are always there in spirit holding your hand.

22. Share.

Share your knowledge as an activist and as a teacher. Do not keep your best kept projects a secret. Do not compete with your colleagues – share. Share this document. Add your own tips for resisting. Collaborate. Together we are stronger. 


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Teaching Strategies GOLD Parent Refusal Letter

Please see my first post regarding GOLD if you are unfamiliar with this assessment. Also, please see our early childhood guide if you are interested in gathering parents to help them in fighting these corporate initiatives. I promise to have this letter uploaded to our website at United Opt Out National soon.

Please share this letter - revise, add to it, do whatever you must to make it work for your situation. If you need assistance in revision please let me know. I can be reached at I will soon have it in Spanish and please let me know what other translations are needed.  Please protect our children, demand they receive authentic learning and authentic instruction and shelter them from corporate entities and mandates which rob them of their childhoods.
Many thanks in advance,

Teaching Strategies GOLD Refusal Letter

Dear (Name of Administrator, Teacher),

I am writing to let you know that I am refusing to allow my child’s information to be gathered for the Teaching Strategies GOLD online database and/or for the district or state department of education database.  I also refuse to allow my child’s information to be gathered specifically for GOLD on paper (such as observations and/or quotes of my child’s comments), in photographs and on video – even if it is NOT uploaded. I refuse to allow my child to participate for many reasons.

First, I refuse because I recognize that my child’s teacher already knows how to assess and evaluate the strengths, attempts and needs of my child using his/her own personal assessment methods. My child’s teacher can document my child’s growth and development using post-its, clipboard notes, and any other form that fits his/her teaching style. I am fine with my child’s teacher jotting quotes and any observations about my child if it indeed helps him/her assess the needs of my child – not the needs of GOLD. Teachers already know how to assess and do not need a corporate assessment to do so.

Second, GOLD is cumbersome and takes my child’s teacher away from the teaching moment. I do not wish for my child’s teacher to spend his/her time snapping photos, scripting what my child says, or leaving the teaching moment to rush to the computer or Ipad in order to add GOLD data. I want my child’s teacher to sit beside my child and engage and interact – not serve as a data manager.

Third, GOLD is intrusive. I do not believe that anyone needs this much information on my child (thousands of data points).  I believe the only people that need to see any information about my child include the teacher, myself - the parents, and any other educators within the school who currently support my child’s needs as a learner. I do not give permission for the school district or the department of education to gather or view this very private information about my child’s social-emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy, mathematics, science & technology, social studies, arts, and/or development within language acquisition.  I can learn about all of this by speaking one on one with my child’s teacher (p/t conference), by viewing the report card, and by viewing my child’s work via portfolio assessment.

Fourth, GOLD is expensive. I am interested in my tax dollars being used to support authentic teaching and learning – not corporate assessments. I would like my tax dollars to be spent on books, libraries, librarians, art, music, PE, small class size, and more. I will not support any initiatives, such as GOLD, in which my tax dollars profit corporations and rob schools of much needed funding. Currently, many districts have hired para professionals to enter GOLD data. Many districts also give preschool teachers a day off to enter GOLD data. If teachers are given a day off and/or para professionals are hired, I prefer they use this time to prepare to teach my child the next day.  They should not be laboring at a computer entering data points. Finally, many teachers have been given Ipads in order to enter GOLD data. I am not opposed to teachers having Ipads; however, I am opposed to the idea that funding suddenly tends to appear when more data is needed to profit the corporations. Where is the funding for libraries? Librarians? Art?

Fifth, GOLD robs teachers of their autonomy. GOLD takes away a teacher’s ability to make professional decisions. Teachers already have their own personal systems in place for assessment, evaluation, planning and instruction. Time spent entering GOLD data is wasted – this time should be spent engaging with children and allowing teachers to do what they need to do in order to be prepared each day to teach. Teachers need time to plan for instruction. GOLD is such a cumbersome assessment that there is NO time left to evaluate and plan for instruction.  My child’s teacher is a professional. I trust my child’s teacher to assess – he/she does not need a corporate assessment.

Sixth, GOLD collects too much data. I do not want my child’s development to be charted with such detail and with such incremental steps. My child’s teacher can inform me of all of this within one parent/teacher conference. No one needs this much data on my child. Teachers are able to articulate the progress of my child concisely and without thousands of useless data points.  When data collection becomes so cumbersome, we can also be certain that instruction will become more lockstep in order to actually assess each data point. Scripted curriculum typically goes hand in hand with detailed data collection, and I fear that many authentic activities may disappear due to the need to “create” a moment to collect what GOLD needs – rather than – what my child needs.

Seventh, I noticed that GOLD is aligned with the common core. The common core standards are developmentally inappropriate for young children. Therefore, I have grave concerns about what this might look like in the classroom. I would like my child to play at reading, play at writing, explore numbers, music, art, PE, and learn to socialize with his/her peers - without someone standing by with an Ipad ready to click a video or picture while scripting my child’s words to determine if my child is meeting the common core standards. Standards do not teach. Teachers teach. My child’s teacher and I know what is best for my child – the common core standards are not.

Finally, Teaching Strategies GOLD is only in Spanish and English. Therefore, many parents will not even know what it is and how it is being used. This concerns me greatly as I know that the corporate reforms currently harm our minority families most intensely. These parents may not even know that such immense data is being collected on their children and uploaded to a corporate, district and/or state database.

I will not be signing the school permission slip which allows photos and videos to be taken of my child if this is going to include Teaching Strategies GOLD.  I simply request that my child be assessed using portfolio assessment and teacher observations, all of which are housed only in my child’s classroom and NOT on the Teaching Strategies GOLD database and/or the district and state database.

Thank you,


Sunday, October 13, 2013

One Parent at a Time

 This morning I sat in front of my computer determined - determined to answer every opt out question in my inbox - this is hard to accomplish because they just keep coming. But today I did it. At least until tomorrow morning or until I check my email again.

I answered questions from distraught parents, parents pleading for help for their child who had been held back or might be held back - even with good report card grades. I responded to parents who were angry - parents whose autistic children are forced to take the test. I helped parents whose children were being denied fine arts due to test scores.  I answered questions from parents with children in kindergarten - these young children are being required to take tests online - these children are frightened. I gave advice to parents whose children are vomiting before the test, parents whose children hate school due to the tests, parents whose children view themselves as failures after the test. I supported parents with children in elementary, middle school, and high school.

I answered teachers' questions: How do I opt my own child out? How do I opt my child out while keeping my job? How do I start a parent movement without attaching my name to it?

I spoke with teachers who asked that I don't use their name; I spoke with teachers who said please use my name.

I heard the stories of parents with children in virtual schools, charter schools, public schools and home schools. They want a revolution. They How do we start one in our community?

This is how - begin by telling your story - speak to the heads and the hearts of those around you.  Invite them over for coffee. Build a relationship. Help them see that your strength is their strength and together you are more powerful.  This is how we will win.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Reign of Error: My New Activist Handbook

I am currently reading Diane Ravitch's new book, The Reign of Error. Simply put, it is excellent.

Diane has covered all aspects of the privatization of public schools – she clearly articulates how the corporate reformers’ ideas don’t work - while offering research-based solutions which indeed DO work. 

I began reading the book during a four hour hiatus last weekend when my husband and two boys took off for the afternoon to run errands. For four hours I sat reading Diane’s book, nodding my head, underlining quotes I can use to educate when I speak or when I write. I placed notes in the margins. I became hopeful, once again. In the quiet solitude of my house, normally filled with the loudness of boys who wrestle, throw, yell, and more or less keep me incredibly busy during my off hours - I took a deep breath. It is rare that I am alone and able to stop, and think in silence. I know that many of you reading this can relate.

But during that moment, in that silence, I reflected on how much our world has changed in the last few years. I reflected on how much my own life has changed, and how Diane’s book confirmed for me, that I am on the right path.

Our work as activists is huge. It is all encompassing. My mother said to me on the phone yesterday, “I don’t know how you can keep up this pace.” Well, I thought this over, and it occurred to me that teachers – all of us – keep up an incredibly fast pace in all that we do. Being a teacher requires us to think fast, to observe and understand human relationships quickly, to be continually present as we listen and evaluate student strengths, attempts and needs – we do all of this while also keeping the big picture in mind – that of supporting life-long learners who will be future citizens of our democracy. Our work and our responsibility as teachers is huge. It is also, all encompassing.  

Diane's book gives credit to our very important work as educators. She explains how competition and choice are destroying our public schools. She shares solutions that work: prenatal care, early childhood education, a balanced curriculum, small class size, a ban on for-profit charters, a demand for wraparound services, an end to high stakes standardized testing and a return to authentic assessment, demand that all teachers, principals and superintendents must be professional educators, demand elected school boards, implement strategies to reduce racial segregation and poverty, and finally, recognize public education as a public responsibility - NOT a consumer good. 

In her first chapter she writes: If you want  a society organized to promote the survival of the fittest and the triumph of the most advantaged, then you will prefer the current course of action, where children and teachers and schools are "racing to the top."  But if you believe the goal of our society should be equality of opportunity for all children and that we should seek to reduce the alarming inequalities children now experience, then my program should win your support.

As I said, our work as activists is huge. But teacher as activist is really a good fit. I believe we are cut out for the job. So, I embrace this role, once again, taking a deep breath, and diving in. 

This time, I will have Diane’s book by my side. It is clear, concise, and to the point - it is not filled with academic jargon which can alienate many readers - readers we need awake and taking action! The chapters are short and can be referenced quickly. As an activist I find myself continually filing away research, quotes and sound bytes in my head;  the Reign of Error has all of these things to support citizens in educating their communities.  I can use the Reign of Error to make my message clear and support others in creating action. It is my new Activist Handbook.

I am not done reading the book. My life right now is very busy with coaching at my elementary school, raising a family, and supporting parents in opting out/refusing the test through my work at United Opt Out National. I am going to continue to read the book with my Opt Out family at our Facebook page, OPT OUT OF THE STATE TEST: The National Movement. We are beginning our book club on September 17th, this Tuesday, when Diane’s book is finally available to the public! I hope you will join us – everyone – parents, students, teachers, community members – join us to read the Reign of Error and further develop our ability to create a clear message that encourages action and allows us to reclaim our public schools. Thank you Diane.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Do Not Go for the GOLD (Teaching Strategies GOLD) for Early Childhood Classrooms

I want to begin by giving everyone a quick background on GOLD. I am simply scraping the tip of the iceberg – it has many additional components to it – but the component that is most used and most touted is the assessment component.  Please bear with me, this blog is much longer than it should be, but if you are a parent with young children you simply must sit down, take a moment, and read.

GOLD claims to assess the whole child for preschool and kindergarten on a developmental continuum starting at birth and ending at age five. It assesses Social-Emotional, Physical, Language, Cognitive, Literacy, Mathematics, Science & Technology, Social Studies, The Arts, and English Language Acquisition. Teaching Strategies GOLD offers lessons, opportunities for families to participate and much more. It will soon expand to include first through third grade. It is aligned with common core. It has been around since 1988. I want to state that it most likely was created with good intentions, however, it has morphed into something that screams corporate education reform.

GOLD is mandated to be used by all publicly funded preschools and kindergartens in Colorado. It is used in many other states as well, but my knowledge is based on Colorado, as my home state. Most Colorado districts are piloting it this year, and it will reach full implementation in the 2014-2015 school year.  Currently, it is paid for in part by a RTTT federal grant, but this money will run out shortly.

GOLD states:
The primary purposes of the Teaching Strategies GOLD ™ assessment system are to help teachers
  • observe and document children’s development and learning over time
  • support, guide, and inform planning and instruction
  • identify children who might benefit from special help, screening, or further evaluation
  • report and communicate with family members and others

The secondary purposes are to help teachers
  • collect and gather child outcome information as one part of a larger accountability system.
  • provide reports to administrators to guide program planning and professional development opportunities

There are 38 objectives organized into 9 areas of development and learning. Social-Emotional is one area of development and learning. These are the objectives found under Social-Emotional:

Objective 1: Regulates own emotions and behaviors
  • Manages feelings
  • Follows limits and expectations
  • Takes care of own needs appropriately
  • Eating and drinking
  • Toileting and personal hygiene
  • Dressing
  • Personal safety

Objective 2:  Establishes and sustains positive relationships
  • Forms relationships with adults
  • Responds to emotional cues
  • Interacts with peers
  • Makes friends

Objective 3:  Participates cooperatively and constructively in group situations
  • Balances needs and rights of self and others
  • Solves social problems

None of these objectives are necessarily problematic; teachers focus on these objectives every single day with young children. What is problematic are the requirements for gathering and reporting the data. I will attempt to explain, although I have to say, actually DOING it is the only way to truly understand the ramifications for students, teachers and schools. So here’s my attempt for what it’s worth…..

Let’s say you observed a child who “manages feelings” which is found under Objective 1 of Social Emotional. You could then log on to the online database, click on the student’s online portfolio, click on objective one, then click on “manages feelings," then type a monitoring note about what you observed the child doing regarding managing feelings.

You might type, “Shaun cried for ten seconds when his mother left and then resumed his work writing in his journal where he attempted to write, “I miss my mom but I like my friends at school.”  Perhaps you might take a picture of Shaun’s journal to demonstrate his development as a writer  – this information could be used to assess additional objectives. Perhaps you might video tape Shaun quietly resuming his work after telling his mother good bye to prove Shaun’s ability to independently calm down and resume his work. You eventually will upload the journal writing and/or video to the database.

When you have completed all of the above, you can then rate Shaun’s ability to “manage feelings. You will have to “click” again, of course.  Perhaps you would give Shaun a six because Shaun was able to “look at a situation differently or delay gratification.” You can choose from “not yet” all the way up to a nine. Many of the numbers along the continuum come with an example for you to determine where Shaun might be developmentally. 

Here is a screen shot of an objective on the continuum: 

You have completed the assessment for one objective under one domain.

If a teacher has a class of 25 children in kindergarten, the teacher will be clicking and entering data not just a few times, but thousands and thousands of times.  S/he will do this for all domains and all objectives for each child and multiple times during the year based on what the district requires.

A classroom teacher’s time will be consumed, devoured, and drained by the amount of work needed to record all of this information. If a teacher chooses to take many pictures and/or videos, it could take the teacher out of the teaching/learning moment. As parents, many of us can recall an event where we obsessively recorded a video of our child or took tons of pictures and when we leave, we realize we didn’t experience the moment in full, because we were so busy recording it.

Much of GOLD is based on observation – or kid-watching. We, as teachers, do this daily, and we seize these moments to jot notes, highlight a name for future planning, have a 1:1 conference with a student, grab the phone to make a quick call to a parent, or perhaps dash down the hall during planning period to ask another teacher what they notice about a child’s writing piece. We collaborate, we communicate, and we gather information that we use short term and long term to plan to meet the needs of every child in our classroom. We share this information directly, one on one, with the adults involved in a child’s life. These human interactions which are immediate and create change will be limited and often erased, by the necessity to continually enter the data, in order to share the data.  Teachers are often encouraged to make GOLD the primary data collection tool – as a result, teacher systems for gathering formative data will go by the wayside. We must remember that one of the ultimate goals of corporate education reform includes erasing the teacher as professional decision-maker.

GOLD is not “bad” in the sense that it is assessing things it shouldn’t assess. Its danger, and the reason for parents to refuse it, lies in how it intrudes, erases, robs, and reshapes student learning, teacher instruction and the culture of public schools.

We must take into account the extreme detail of this system.  GOLD does not just share a number. It shares very detailed, very personal information about children. Now, some might say that the data is NOT being shared. That’s fine. But my response is this – when data is uploaded to a system it is guaranteed that it is uploaded in order to share it more easily with others. Much of the GOLD data is information that previously was shared privately with the parents and key adults within the individual school community.

Parents do not need me to upload all this data in order to communicate with them about their child’s strengths, attempts and next steps. I can easily share student work, speak one on one with parents and even share snapshots I may have gathered (with parent permission); it's called parent/teacher conferencing!!

For example, I don’t know why I would need to upload information about a child’s ability or lack of ability to use a toilet? I share this information privately with parents. Period.  Another example, a child’s cognitive ability to attend, engage, show curiosity, persist – all of these are shared with parents, and other educators/adults involved in a child’s life via notes and via conversation.It is no one's business - except the parents and other key adults within the school community - if Mark is bouncing off the walls during reading time because he is only able to sit still for ten minutes.

I recall that my report card always said, “Peggy needs to quit talking so much during class.” That little tidbit of information was between me, my parents and my teacher. No one else needed to know that. Nor did anyone else need to know about the child who brought a teddy bear to school to comfort herself when her mother said goodbye. That information should not be uploaded to a database. It may seem like harmless information to some of you reading this, but we have to consider the bigger picture – and that bigger picture includes all data following a child all the way through school and potentially into their careers. I cringe to consider what sort of information is entered into GOLD in schools where compliance and "no excuses" is the name of the game.

I believe GOLD is marketed in a way that leads educators and parents to believe that it is assessing something we didn’t assess before. Suddenly we are assessing the “whole” child. Educators know how to assess the whole child. We do it every day. We are working with human beings and in order to support students in learning, we must consider absolutely everything about each child.

GOLD can limit what we assess because it is so time consuming we may have little time to assess other things we want to find out about our students. 

As I mentioned before, when data is uploaded we immediately must question WHY.  Here in Colorado, the Department of Education will have some access to GOLD data; what this looks like remains to be seen. We must be very wary of these databases.  FERPA laws have changed and we need to aware that data sharing is THE. NAME. OF. THE. GAME. Data mining is what is allowing our schools to be used for profit.  Parents are allowed to see GOLD data, and they also can be involved in adding to the student portfolio, but based on what I hear happening across the country, I am not sure this is even occurring.

Also, we need to ask……who else can enter GOLD data about your child?
The classroom teacher of course, but it is guaranteed that others will be helping to enter this data as well because it is so incredibly time consuming. Money will be spent to support schools in getting this data entered via extra time and/or extra adults assigned to enter the data. And if extra money is not spent to support data entry, you can assume that your child’s teacher is spending his/her outside the classroom time entering this data (instead of planning) or perhaps worse, entering it during classroom time when the teacher should be focused on interacting with children.  Either way, schools lose money via extra dollars spent on data entry and/or time wasted by teachers entering the data in lieu of planning. Imagine how this money could have been spent to increase art, music, PE, librarians and more?

Teachers already have personal systems in place to assess their students. I use post-its, monitoring notes that I carry on a clipboard, and indeed I use technology to support my ability to monitor – but I tailor my system to meet my needs and my students’ needs so that assessment is on-going, manageable, useful and private.

GOLD robs teachers of precious planning time, authentic formative assessment time, and it potentially robs students of classroom time interacting as a learner with their teacher.

GOLD reshapes the teacher’s role into one of data manager. If you google GOLD you will find that some love it - those that love it often tend to be teachers who previously had no data system in place to monitor their students. I consider this to be a typical response for new teachers who hug their reading teacher’s guide tightly for dear life, but after a year, they begin to recognize their own knowledge and expertise within theory and practice and they let the guide become simply another resource. If you google GOLD you will also find many that despise it – they discuss how time consuming it is and how they have no time to actually focus on true planning based on their own personal authentic assessment and evaluation.  As mentioned earlier, they discuss how GOLD has determined WHAT is to be assessed and that other things they would like to assess are simply not included.

So, let’s take this even a step further. The end goal within corporate reform has been teacher as data manager and teacher as technician. We (teachers) will follow a script, we will enter the data, and the corporations will take it from there. We have many experienced teachers who will play the game, use the GOLD system because they are required to, but they will find ways to continuing using their own authentic assessment to move their children forward. Many will attempt to make GOLD useful if at all possible. However, we will have many teachers, such as Teach for America teachers, or brand new teachers, who will use GOLD because it is mandated and it will become THE way to assess. Teacher as data manager and teacher as technician will grow and could eventually erase teacher as professional decision-maker. Our knowledge of formative assessment will vanish.

How has our reality been reshaped by data mining? We must ask - what did we lose when we accepted these assessment systems?

Let’s dig even deeper. We will have early childhood teachers as data managers who are spending hours upon hours entering data. Who will this profit? Believe me, there is profit involved in this GOLD endeavor. Data mining is becoming more and more detailed for a reason – detailed data allows corporations to further understand HOW to profit off of public education and further understand HOW to control and manage teachers and children in order to continue to cash in and control the masses to meet the needs of the 1%.

GOLD currently is being financed in part through early childhood Race to the Top federal grants. When this funding ends, how will districts pay for it?  What will disappear from our schools as each district scrambles to find the funding to continue using GOLD?

Now I’ll get personal.

I have entered data into GOLD. I felt, truly felt, what it meant to be a data manager. I felt robbed, used and controlled. I wanted to take my computer and throw it against the wall. As a teacher who knows how to assess learners in a kindergarten classroom, I felt my autonomy being stripped from me.  It was humiliating. It was mentally exhausting.  And as a result of this experience, I will not teach kindergarten in Colorado unless this assessment is drop-kicked out of this state.

My final words are for parents.

REFUSE the GOLD.  It will rob your child's teacher and your child of precious time. Even if your child’s teacher enters GOLD data when your child is not at school, it has stilled robbed your child of what his/her teacher would have done with that planning time previous to serving as a data manager for the corporations.  Finally, protect your child's privacy. Your child is now a data generator and your child's teacher is a data manager - refuse GOLD and they can relinquish those roles.

I am not a data manager. I am a teacher. I am an excellent kindergarten teacher. And I will not be subjected to such insanity involving thousands of data points coupled with detailed information about students - all housed online to benefit the corporate regime we now have in place.

I don’t trust the GOLD. At first glance, it appears innocent. I am sure that many involved in GOLD have very good intentions - I have no doubt about that. In reality, GOLD is the future of public education in which teacher as data manager will gather detailed information about children and dutifully upload all of it to serve the corporations. I fear for our children and how this information will follow them through out their lives while narrowing and controlling their learning opportunities and eventually their careers as adults. GOLD is one more piece which lends itself to the destruction of our democracy while appearing to support learners and teachers.

For more information on what to look for in early childhood classrooms see our guide here.  I am always fascinated by names. GOLD. Ties in nicely with Race to the Top doesn't it? It's no winner. Believe me. We will all lose under assessments like GOLD.