Saturday, August 30, 2014

Do NO HARM. That is Reasonable.

As this common core and high stakes testing war comes to a head I am watching lots of folks trying to mediate and ask folks to be reasonable. They want to talk about all the harm that could come to our schools should we refuse these tests or refuse test prep common core curriculum. When I hear this my hair stands on end. Number one. Don't flipping tell me to be reasonable. Don't insult me - as a professional - my first job is to do NO HARM. THAT IS REASONABLE. Two. Speaking of harm - what harm do you think is going to come to our communities? Our children? Let's see, they've stripped our schools of all funding for small class size, librarians, nurses, counselors, art, music programs, sports programs, REAL teachers, books, building repairs, classroom supplies and more. They've stripped our schools of democracy. They've stripped our schools of trust, and respect and safety - there is NOTHING safe for children in a high stakes environment. Countless communities have been destroyed and children no longer can go to their neighborhood schools. THEY REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE POVERTY AND FEED OUR CHILDREN TESTS INSTEAD. So tell me again - hurt our schools? How?? Be careful around these reasonable folks who want you to adhere to mandates in order to avoid "hurting" your schools - they have something personal to gain or they are simply sheeple. Our schools and our children are already hurt. We are attempting to educate in war tents with damaged communities, children, teachers and buildings. Quite honestly, the way many folks act now in the public schools is the way folks who have been mentally or physically abused act. Folks have been so beaten down that they are hanging on by a thread. So - you - out there - who have the audacity to tell us to stop our acts of civil disobedience in order to stop "hurting" our schools - we know your game and we know where you stand. On the wrong side of history. Get out of our way.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Parents, I Cannot Protect Your Children

I will do my best. But my best isn't good enough - and I think that is the point I really want to make here. 

Across the nation teachers are fighting back hard. Across the nation - actually across the world -  teachers will shut their doors and do their best to protect children from high stakes testing, test prep, nonstop district and state mandated testing and more. But - the truth is this, our best is not good enough, because in order to attempt to do our best we are jumping through hoops, shutting our door to secretly do what is right for children, spending our own money on resources for our classrooms and on supplies for children who have none, and we are spending hours and hours gaming our way through "teach to the test" curriculum and massive amounts of mandated corporate formative and summative assessment - in order to attempt to "do our best."  

So, I'm going to be blunt here. I cannot do my best under these conditions. I can attempt to do my best, but my best under these conditions is not good enough. And my attempts to play the game and resist where I can will not be enough to protect your children from what is happening.

Also - I want to make it clear that by shutting our doors and attempting to do our best, we are able to protect your children a bit more, but shutting our doors and keeping quiet about the harmful practices that have infiltrated our schools is only adding to our problems - if we think long term. Short term, yes - it helps us do what is right for children. Long term, it only promotes a false reality that allows parents to think, it isn't really that bad. Long term, it assists in the dismantling of public education and our profession. Finally, shutting the door doesn't allow teachers to hide from the databases which demand us to enter your child's data on all these assessments. The data mining has begun full force.

So, yes, I'll do my best. I have even refused to administer the common core PARCC assessment this year - I can do that to protect children. But let's be clear on this - even though I have refused to administer the PARCC test, there will be someone there to take my place.

And I cannot protect children from certain non-negotiables within common core curriculum and on-going assessment. We cannot protect the children from the common core professional development which takes us away from our buildings and leaves children with substitute teachers.  As a literacy coach,  I do what I can to rephrase and rid my school of corporate reform language such as rigor, grit, calibrate, accountability, no excuses and college and career ready.  I can even replace these words with language that represents inquiry, heart, relationships, community, equity, creativity and more. But ultimately, all of my attempts are simply band aids.

Even though I have done my best to make writing "on-demand" prompts developmentally appropriate for kindergarten (let's face facts -there is NO such thing), it is still an "on-demand" writing prompt for kindergarten. Even though I will do everything in my power to support children in their inquiries about bugs, outer space, poetry, sports, cooking, their favorite authors, music, art, history and more; I cannot stop the testing train which makes stops in every classroom every week in some shape or form. The classroom is no longer driven by the rhythm of learning, it is driven by the testing schedule which continually interrupts our children's talk and exploration of their interests - the testing schedule extinguishes the passion for learning.  It makes all of us tired with the constant stop. start. stop start. as we try to regroup and get back on track with the real learning that is occurring in the classrooms.  I can't tell you how many "ah ha" moments have been lost for children as they had to break away from their projects, their thinking, their conversation, in order to hunker down over an assessment as they labor for the corporations.

And in the midst of all this testing, we are surrounded by new common core curriculum that is embedded with test prep, scripted lessons and more - and this is what we are doing - we are trying to read through all this curriculum while asking ourselves, "How can we use this curriculum and still do what is best for children?  How can we make the best of this? How can we pull out the good stuff and leave the rest? How can we look like we are being good little soldiers and still do what is right for children?"

Now - as teachers swim through this new common core curriculum, because we are expected to do so, understand that this takes immense amounts of time away from what we should be focusing on - the children.  It takes time to figure out which parts of the curriculum will be non-negotiable and which parts we can skip or substitute what we know is best for children.  So, as I swim through mounds of new common core curriculum in order to "do my best" I simply will not be doing my best because being required to maneuver through such madness in order to TRY to do my best - let's face facts -  is simply not good enough for your children.  They deserve better.  Our attention should be on the children - not the demands of the common core curriculum and high stakes testing.  

I ask this - do you believe that the teachers at Sidwell (school of President Obama's children) are asking these questions and jumping through these hoops? Does anyone believe that Malia and Sasha are faced with the stop. start. stop. start. of continual onslaughts of corporate testing throughout the year?

Of course not. Sidwell students have ample resources and no common core curriculum or testing.  Sidwell teachers are allowed to do their best and focus on the children.

Now, some might say I exaggerate, but I promise, I don't. Test prep and common core curriculum come in many disguises. Publishers and those who write this curriculum are slick at embedding test prep into the curriculum. They are slick at trying to convince teachers and the public that this is good for children. 

Sadly, there are many teachers who do not realize what is happening to their profession or to our public schools. Some still say, "This too shall pass." They think it's just one more new thing that will eventually move along like every new mandate. Some laugh at me and think I am extreme. Heck, my own state and national union supports the common core, while I sit here and watch it dumb down my own school and my son's school every week.  I watch it take autonomy from teachers and turn creative thinking into carefully disguised skill/drill.

The depth of this reform is not always visible to the naked eye - intentionally so.  But for those teachers watching keenly, we have eagle eye vision for these changes - as this is OUR profession - our turf. If I was doing my best, I'd tell every parent every thing I know about these reforms. But if I did that, I'd get fired.

You see, we are not supposed to share with you the developmentally inappropriateness of kindergarten classrooms in our buildings. We also sign agreements that prohibit us from telling you about the child that cried through the entire high stakes test or the child who bit his finger nails to the quick during the test. We are not supposed to tell you that the report cards are a joke and mean nothing. We are not supposed to tell you that your children don't even have to take these tests and that these tests are culturally and racially biased. We are not supposed to tell you that the children are bouncing off the walls because they only get one fifteen minute recess a day. We aren't supposed to tell you that the new "big thing" is brain breaks in order to help your children cope with the fact that they aren't allowed to have more recess. 

We are supposed to make the best of it. We are not supposed to explain that the new curriculum and new chrome books are really here for one reason - to increase performance on the common core tests. We are not supposed to tell you that every year your child is spending more time laboring for the corporations as new tests and test prep get added. There are lots of bells and whistles that disguise the truth of this common core curriculum and testing regime surrounding your children - and we are supposed to do our best and ring those bells and smile when you are around.

If you want to protect your children, you must begin by refusing all the tests. Even as I, a teacher, refuse to administer the PARCC, it will not stop the PARCC from moving forward. My union is not behind me ready to organize and back all the teachers if they were to refuse to administer the PARCC, so I stand alone. And even if my union did organize the teachers to refuse to administer the PARCC test, my union still supports common core - so I still can't protect children and I still can't "do my best" because common core and high stakes testing cannot be decoupled. Believe me - I'll keep working hard at the grassroots level to shift our union, but it won't happen over night. In the meantime, your children are suffering.

Some days I feel like a nurse inside a war tent with wounded soldiers. And no matter how brave I am, no matter how much I stand up to these reforms, it is not enough - they have taken away so much of my power, and my ability to make professional decisions in order to protect children and do what is right for all children.

I teach at a school with 73% free/reduced lunch. Over 40 languages are spoken within my school. I know what our children need - they need wrap around services for poverty, books, librarians, small class size, health care, nurses, counselors, recess, quality food, and the opportunity to express their interests as they talk, read, write, play, sing, dance, create and smile. But you see, that doesn't create corporate profit. Poverty must be ignored in order to keep corporate profit churning.  

Parents, I cannot protect your children. I must be honest in telling you that the war is alive and well in our classrooms, and children are being harmed every day. What is happening is evil, cruel and abusive. Refuse the tests and deny the corporations the profit, deny the district, state and federal government your child's data (which they can share with corporations), deny the publishing companies the opportunity to create more common core products.  Without the data, the profit ends and we have an opportunity to reclaim our public schools, our profession. We have an opportunity to do what is right for all children.  I am done smiling and saying, I am doing my best. I'm not.