Monday, December 28, 2015

Gaslighting & Turnaround Schools

I am currently working in a turnaround school.   A turnaround school is a public school that has been deemed "failing" by policy makers. The policy makers inflict draconian, fascist measures on such schools in an effort to turn them around - aka - increase test scores.  If they don't increase test scores they bring the hammer down harder by firing teachers, handing the school over to a charter, or closing the school, and so on. 

Turnaround schools are not failing. Rather, the truth is that the policies are the failures. The racist, classist, sexist policies are based on lies and false realities meant to create compliant worker bees who do as they are told to increase test scores, while ultimately allowing the corporate reformers to push forward other measures which increase profit, increase the privatization of our public schools, and finally, increase the power of the privileged. That's it in a nutshell. 

However, the factual process of turnaround in no way reveals to the public how this brutal takeover goes down.  How to articulate the process has been at the forefront of my mind for the last five months as I found myself thrown head first into this madness.  And indeed, it  is a madness like no other - a combination of insane asylum and prison. As I tried to articulate it to a dear friend of mine, she said, "Peggy, you are being gaslighted."  I had never heard the term gaslighting. I immediately began to read about it. I owe much gratitude to this friend who has given me a framework I can use to explain this process.

My point in writing this blog is to expose the turnaround process for what it can be (not all turnarounds are necessarily as I describe), and allow those in the midst of this to figure out how to move forward. This is not a feel good blog with a happy ending. Ultimately, I don't know how it will end for me, but I believe that the only way we will end the bigger picture of corporate education reform is through educating the public and educating ourselves so that together, we can form a plan of action to fight back. Gaslighting is designed to keep you in fight/flight mode - so it's important to step back, understand it, and think it through, in order to determine your next step.

Gaslighting is such an insane reality to live in that it becomes incredibly difficult to focus on anything else except the ability to get through the day- it is designed intentionally so.

So let's try to take a look at what's really happening.

The first stage of Gaslighting is described as disbelief.  Strange events, behaviors, and actions by others begin to occur. Perhaps you are told something that doesn't seem true to you or simply just sounds bizarre. Perhaps someone you trusted speaks to you in a manner that seems fake, or staged. 

In my case, the "disbelief" began with the supposed root cause of our turnaround status. 

We were told:  Students experienced lower-quality and less rigorous instruction that did not accelerate them to proficiency and beyond, because the CCSS was not used to guide instruction in all content areas.  

Now, for someone like myself,  who has spent hours upon hours researching and advocating for the end of corporate education reform this "root cause" at first, is quite laughable. We know that standards - good, bad, and ugly, in no way increase student achievement. Quite honestly, there's no correlation whatsoever between standards and student test scores. This has been clearly confirmed by looking at NAEP scores and the standards used in the various states. So, simply put, it's a lie.

And therein follows the disbelief. You are told a lie about this so-called turnaround status. And I can assure you that nationwide there is no root cause - in a school improvement plan housed on a department of education website - that will state the truth - the truth is clearly poverty and that has been confirmed as well.  But in this gut wrenching fast move to privatize our public schools it is necessary to lie and necessary to beat people into compliance in order to cash in quickly - using policies which gaslight educators who ultimately must carry out these actions of educational malpractice.

So, you sit in disbelief at these lies.  At first you think, okay, whatever, we can play this game. We'll continue to do right by children behind closed doors and the policy makers can go screw themselves. That's the first reaction.  At this point you still believe you have some autonomy and you think you might be able to reason with the powers that be in order to figure out a way to "tweak" this to make it doable.

But then, the gaslighting process continues. The policy makers have a strangle hold on our public schools, and they will find various ways to continue to push forward their measures in a turnaround school. Perhaps they will bring in an auditor who interviews (interrogates) each staff member in an attempt to expose weaknesses that might confirm the so-called root cause. Perhaps they will bring in district personnel to dig through your data and observe your classrooms nonstop in order to, once again, find confirmation that your root cause is true, valid and that ultimately - you, the educators, are to blame for your low test scores. Perhaps they will bring in consultants, books, videos, or additional training to lead you to see how embracing their root cause will fix your failure. There are many ways they might move forward as they gaslight you. In my school, we were enrolled in the Colorado Department of Education turnaround program.  We were labeled a Relay Leadership School and Relay indoctrination became the vehicle for our gaslighting.

If you are unfamiliar with Relay please read my blog here. Relay is a fake graduate school that was created to meet the needs of particular charter school chains who focus on no excuse models of discipline and teach to the test curriculum. Simply put, it's hell on earth for experienced teachers with actual teaching degrees, master's degrees, and years of teaching experience.  As a school that prided itself on our model of inquiry and democracy this was an insanely sharp turn to take.  

The false root cause was just setting the stage for the steps that followed.   We watched in awe as new vocabulary was introduced, new protocols for meetings were brought forward, new expectations around student behavior, new expectations around lesson plans, teaching, teacher evaluation and more surfaced. Ultimately, the reality we knew was gone.  We watched in disbelief.  We tried to shake it off like a wet dog and clarify who we were - what we stood for - but when you are not in a position of power it becomes extremely difficult to demand that your identity is acknowledged.  At this stage of gaslighting one becomes defensive  - it is here where you try to hold your ground - a bit of a last stand. 

During stage two - defense - you think that perhaps there is a way to reason through this situation. Perhaps honesty will help. Perhaps stating clearly how we know that our root cause is poverty and that there is no research to demonstrate that adhering to standards improves student achievement, perhaps, just perhaps - there will be a way to shift this back to what you know to be the true reality - a come-to-jesus meeting so to speak.  Let's just put it all out think.  

Or, perhaps, as a defense, you refuse to follow through with demands made on you - demands which are an attempt to make this reality become the norm. You might refuse to do test prep, post standards, or perhaps you simply refuse to participate in meetings where this bullshit is discussed. Perhaps you vocally state that you will not participate in book studies or processes which demand that you ignore what you know about pedagogy, child development, and ultimately, your students

You think that you might be able to reason with the gaslighters who push forward these measures, but policy makers do not care about children. They care about their policy, and this is when you realize that you stand alone - policy prevails - and it trickles down in the most toxic way - it pushes and prods and ultimately pounds - when necessary - to enforce this reality which does not exist.  You might at this point try to be a team player while still closing your door and attempting to do right by kids - you think you can work within the system in order to make the best of a horrid situation and protect the children by doing so - a careful and quiet defense. You participate in meetings, you try to make sense of the standards in a way that you can see how they might benefit your students. You smile in the hallways and you think this is doable - you can get through this - you can secretly do right by kids.

But the incredibly harsh and punitive measures keep coming.  They want more from you - absolute utter compliance to a system of standards, targets, success criteria, tight transitions, evaluation of worthless interim test data, pre-assessments, post-assessments, and more. It's never ending. They want to observe. At first the observations are scheduled. But soon they become pop-ins and then you are told that they/the policy makers  - could show up at anytime.  Your defensive mode is still on - but you are also feeling fearful - fearful of the unknown and confused by the pounding that comes faster and more frequently by the day. You never hear the word child uttered in any conversations related to the work you do.   You know that all of this is meaningless - this false reality is based on nothing - you know you're NOT crazy - standards, targets - all of this is based on a business model of education - a corporate fascist model designed to treat children and teachers as widgets - to be moved and manipulated as needed in order to get them to cough up numbers - data - data that can be used to create winners and losers.  There's no humanity here.  Just numbers. Just hard cold numbers that you must churn out with a militant nazi like step that makes you want to vomit in the bathroom on your lunch break.

As you give them the numbers, the data - you know that this is not what is best for children. You know that your attempts to play the game have failed miserably.  You don't believe in this game  and you are not a widget - you are a human being with a conscience and you care for the children in your classroom.  You simply can't be brainwashed - and  while you think you might be going crazy, your conversations with others makes it clear that none of you are going crazy, you are simply being gaslighted. You know you don't believe in creating compliant learners who parrot back targets and sit in rows and transition tightly with no student choice, no inquiry, no creativity and ultimately no democracy. You can't play the game - you simply can't do it. And you wonder, how can anyone do it?

Are we losing our humanity?

And that brings on the third stage, depression. As I have talked to teachers across the country over the last four years about the turnaround process, depression has been one of the most prominent feelings that teachers have discussed.  Teachers are in tears daily, antidepressants and other prescribed medications become necessary to cope and survive day by day in this punitive process. Teachers have anxiety attacks in the middle of the school day.  Teachers search for a quiet space somewhere in the building to make a quick call to a friend in order to get the fortitude to work through the next three hours rather than have an emotional collapse. Having the time and energy to take care of one's self becomes nonexistent.  I just can't do it you say to yourself - but you know you must. Every day you must get up and do it again.  Every day you imagine how you might escape - what other job could you do? But then, you love the kids, you don't want to leave, but  you can't figure out how you will survive much longer.  You sit in your car in the parking lot and try to pull it together for one. more. day. And you begin to wonder about the policy makers ultimate evil goals......are they attempting to push you out? They need compliant teachers who will believe it - and you know THEY know you are not compliant. Your mind is racing. And you wonder, who are these people who can believe these things? What has happened to humanity? 

A dear friend of mine and teacher, Tanis Humes, who recently left my school due to our turnaround nightmare, described it like this:

Teacher burn out is real. It happens. All you need to do it google the term and you can read about how real it is. Teacher burnout happens to the best of us working in the best of conditions. It happens because teaching takes a lot out of us. It takes physical strength, circling a room, holding off using the restroom, standing, bending, and don’t get me started on the germ warfare your body goes through each and every work day year after year. It takes from us emotionally. You care about each one of those precious lives. You cry in your car on the way home because of the stories they shared, or the fear that they are not going to catch up to their peers socially or academically. You have bouts of anger and frustration when the students decide they would like to control the table group, the classroom, and sometimes you. And finally, spiritually - you invest in their hopes and dreams. You worry it’s not enough. You are always reading and researching the next best thing. We as teachers do this every day, 180ish days a year, for years. You are your toughest critic. But the good moments and the breaks for holidays give you just enough recharge to keep going.

Then another outside factor finds its way into your career, building, and classroom. Your department of education, a hired consulting firm, or district “coaching” team arrive to add a new stressor, their hard line and sense of “urgency” that they fail to recognize you already had. Now the times during which you doubt yourself, there is a person or group who says you should doubt yourself. Piece by piece, instead of building you up, they are tearing you down. They think if they pressure you enough you’ll  "grow" and so will your students. They pressure you so that you’ll pressure the students. They bully you into compliance so that you in turn will bully the students into compliance, and eventually,  there are not enough good moments to recharge. They use double speak so that you begin to fear for your job. They create impossible deadlines so you’ll kill yourself trying to make it and in return you might have a little less time for the students. Something they will see and cite as to why your school or practices need their input and assistance. In essence they kill the teacher in you and the spirit that kept you together through all the other stressors until you leave, and then they can replace you with someone who they think will be the magician that you were not. You leave, not willingly, but out of self preservation for your physical and emotional well-being. We call it burnout. But the source of the burn is not the students, the work or the calendar. It is the people who think they know how to “fix” you and your school. When all they need to do is look at what is best for the students, school, and teachers. It is not pressure and threats or compliance. It is meeting our physical and emotional needs and respecting us.

In a turnaround situation where one is being gaslighted, as Tanis described above, eventually you get to a point where a decision must be made - you stay - or you go.  And if you stay, in some way your spirit, your identity, your being shifts - it is difficult to walk with a light step in this environment . Maybe your step becomes more determined, maybe slower, maybe you step out - for good. 

I am sure that there are many folks out there who would add a new dimension, a new twist, or example, to my description of gaslighting - google gaslighting to see the varied experiences and stages that are shared.  Feel free to leave a comment sharing your experience.

Bottom line is that in a turnaround school the end goal is to destroy what you know to be true  - the end goal is to shift and transform the reality in order to meet the goals of the policy makers who know nothing about children.  The goals of the policy makers are hollow and weak - they want to increase test scores.  Yet, these policies embody something much bigger, much more egregious than anyone wishes to acknowledge in mainstream media. Standardized test scores are rooted in the eugenics movement, where they ranked, sorted and ordered individuals using standardized tests to confirm that certain races were smarter and better - standardized tests today remain as a strong hold to keep the privilege privileged. It's important to understand this history and keep it in the forefront of your mind when every last god forsaken mandate attempts to tell you otherwise.   Karen Lewis explains it very well here .  As policies continue to enforce a reality that is untrue (standardized test scores have value) it becomes essential for everyone under those policies to continue to pay homage to the policies if indeed this reality is to be believed by the public and continue to generate profit and power for the privileged.  The reality is that providing children with nutrition, healthcare, and books, while also providing adults with a living wage, would allow our public schools and our democracy  to thrive.  

Under ESSA, these punitive measures will continue.  There will be no relief from testing, in actuality, there will be more testing  - but that's for another blog post.  Turnaround schools will still exist, and the only way to shut down gaslighting is to educate and to refuse the tests.  Until then, this false reality will continue to be pushed forward by policy makers.  And policy makers will continue to push out true, experienced educators with teaching degrees in order to bring in fake (TFA, Relay) teachers who are willing to comply, believe the propaganda, and support the process of ranking, sorting and ordering America's children.

If you are being gaslighted, the best way to shut it down is to educate.  It isn't easy to watch the transformation of a school filled with teachers and children shift  to a model of education that lacks democracy, humanity, and truth.  If it were easy, we wouldn't be human. Keep being human. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Solidarity on a Sunday Night

Not enough time to blog lately but I get in a few short FB messages from time to time. From my FB tonight:

Many thanks to everyone that continues to help with the Twitter storm (search hashtag #NPAF #rejectrelay for more info) against Relay fake Graduate School during the National Principal Academy Fellowship in NY this weekend. There are lots of folks out there watching quietly who appreciate your help. For those of you headed back to work tomorrow in a Relay environment please remember that you are not crazy - stay in touch with your humanity and your pedagogy. There is no research stating that standards, targets, and/or success criteria correlate with student achievement. None. So, you are not crazy to think that plastering this BS on your wall every day is a waste of time. It is a waste of time.

However, there is a clear correlation between compliant learners and test-taking for schools that use this technique combined with a no-excuse discipline model (Teach Like a Champion - which demands bad ideas like cold call, snapping, and barking orders at children in a militant way). All of this is done in order to demand "perseverance" and "fidelity" to the tests and therefore increase test scores. Test scores do not equal learning. And ultimately, all of this is done to drive out experienced teachers who know what children need because THAT does not bring in the cold hard cash to the corporations. Truly, the big picture is so twisted and corrupt that the children are nothing but laborers for the corporations - and the harshest measures are inflicted on our children of color in urban diverse schools. The passing of ESSA last week will unfortunately increase the number of fake graduate schools - we have our work cut out for us - more on this topic later I promise. 

The reformers who know nothing about teaching (aka Relay and more) will not look at the research that tells them what needs to be done to support and improve our schools - that research demonstrates a very high correlation between student achievement and feeding children, providing children with healthcare, and stocking their libraries at home and at school with books. That correlation is crystal clear. 

It's important for us to remember what is true and good for children when we are placed in an environment which feels like an alternate reality where the majority of what we are asked to do is NOT best for children. Remember what is true because the end goal is to make you forget. 

Solidarity on a Sunday night.

Friday, December 4, 2015

TS Gold - A Child's Report Card

I have written two previous blogs on Teaching Strategies Gold, an assessment that is used to assess children from birth through third grade. My previous blogs explained the teacher's perspective in regard to entering the data (literally thousands of data points per class of children - robbing children of instructional time) and the second blog was a refusal letter for parents wishing to opt their children out of TS Gold.

Today I want to share a child's TS Gold report card.  This particular district sends out a TS Gold report card to the parents or guardians every trimester. This child's report card is 11 pages long. The child's name was listed 121 times on the document. There are 60 indicators assessed with accompanying bar graphs. Each bar graph includes a statement about "where" the child is currently, in terms of mastering that indicator, and also lists a next step. You will notice that many of the indicators assess soft skills - skills that are not academic, but rather, deal with a child's emotion, interaction with others, and more.

See the report card below.  Please check my previous two blogs for more information, and I will be doing a follow up blog to share more on the data mining component of TS Gold.

Who wants a report card like this? Not parents. Not teachers. Corporations who like data?  The new gold? Yes. And, finally, why does a five year old need an 11 page report card? I can't fathom anyone needing an 11 page report card, can you?

Here it is. It's crazy long and crazy in general. Click on each picture for best visibility. I'm not going to comment anymore on it because I think the best way to view it is like a parent might, a parent who was expecting a one page report card with a few notes from the teacher. Join this FB page to meet other teachers and parents who are fighting back against TS Gold.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Harassment Lawsuit Anyone?

When your school is being destroyed by the dictatorial advice of fake teacher programs (Relay) aided and abetted by the Colorado Department of Education all under absolutely fear mongering mandates that force you into silence what is one to do? Do you stay quiet and simply let it all go down as they have planned? Or, do you speak up, refuse to do as asked, and risk getting fired? And when you speak up, you do so knowing that there is absolutely no one there to stop this train as it has left the station. It's guaranteed you'll get knocked down and run over on the tracks. You will be a casualty. That's the hard cold truth facing many teachers today. And then, you'll be replaced. And will these replacements care for the children like you did? Or will they be products of fake teacher programs and will they force your children to walk in lines without moving their arms and spend days on end doing online test prep? Perhaps Dawn Neely Randall is on the right track here? Neely-Randall vs. State of Ohio? Peer Discriminatory Harassment?

Sounds damn good to me. Email me at after reading this if it sounds good to you too. 

She writes:

Neely-Randall vs. State of Ohio

Peer Discriminatory Harassment:

This past week, as I was completing an online training module assigned by the Ohio Department of Education via a required harassment/bullying video (so we could know the state laws within the classroom context), the definition of harassment given included to 1) have an intent to harm; 2) be directed at a specific target; and 3) involve repeated incidents. I learned that legally, harassment focuses on how the behavior affects the victim.

As a teacher in the State of Ohio, I suddenly realized that I am being harassed by the Ohio Department of Education's own legal definition as well as from legislators who are passing harmful laws to hurt me as well as many harmful laws that hurt my students, which totally, unequivocally knock the wind right out of me.

The state is asking teachers to educate and test students in ways that many of us do not feel is morally correct or developmentally appropriate. For instance, very shortly, some districts will test 3rd graders (a test they must pass in order to pass third grade; another form of harassment) for three hours straight. So, eight year olds, will sit at a computer for THREE HOURS STRAIGHT taking a high-stakes (high-pressure situation) English Language Arts test so they can pass third-grade, even though, they are only beginning their second quarter of third-grade. Harassment, much?

In addition, "preliminary" raw data was finally released by the state from PARCC. A woman could have conceived, grown, and birthed a baby in less time than it took for students to have received their scores from the state based on their LAST year's testing. Oh, wait. Students STILL have not received their scores and the school's "grade card" is not due out until at least the end of January. Yet, the media is already reporting these raw, preliminary numbers, which, in effect, label teachers and schools. Districts in poverty zip codes are looking like failures whereas schools in more affluent zip codes look like they have better teachers. The scores also do not account for if a student made tremendous growth from the time he/she walked into the classroom and instead, labeled the child as "Basic" or "Limited" aka, failures. Labels hurt. Labels don't go away. Labels on children is a form of harassment.

Our Ohio Department of Education is a mess. State superintendents do not stick around long. Even when I called the ODE to ask about the new AIR tests, the person answering the phone asked me, "Is that spelled A-I-R?" Um, yes, yes it is. It seems that everyone there should know PARCC and AIR by now; especially at the state level.

The charter scrubbing scandal is also a mess. Urban public schools are constantly being told they are FAILING and being threatened with state takeover while the Ohio Department of Education falsified charter information not only to the citizens of the state, but also to the United States Department of Education, and continued to label schools and did nothing to press charges against the person(s) falsifying the data, even though teachers in another state are IN JAIL for doing the same thing.

And on and on and on and on. (I haven't even mentioned the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System where it took me eight hours to write one lesson plan and a process in which teachers are labeled at the state level based in large part on test scores.)

Bottom line: I feel harassed by the Ohio Department of Education. I feel abused. I feel heartsick with what they are asking us to do in education and the hoops they are requiring us to put our students through. When a special ed student pulls out every eyelash during testing, that's a problem. When a fifth-grade student breaks down blubbering during a high-states test, that's a problem. When a child on an Individualized Instruction Plan calls the State of Ohio HIMSELF (with his parents' help) THREE times because he feels so convicted about how wrong he is being treated and the Ohio Department of Education does not have the decency to return his message, that's a problem.

And during the high school years, in which it should be a students' glory days and life preparation time, they are putting students, who are already being slammed by society, under tremendous stress and pressure by making teenagers the guinea pigs for their constant shifting of requirements for graduation.

Yes, I feel harassed and finally, I'm going to do something about it.
I will be looking for an attorney to represent me in a lawsuit against anyone harming the children, and thus, me, on my watch.
If you, too, feel harassed, please feel free to send me a note. (I've already heard from several people.)

If you know of an attorney, legislator, anyone who can help me to get this process off the ground, I'd really appreciate it.

I will be calling my union for help first. However, this is not on behalf of my amazing school or my supportive superintendent. This is on behalf of me, myself, and I. The state has crossed the line many times in the past few years, but their Peer Discriminatory Harassment online module taught me that I, too, am a victim of abuse. I will use their words in this lawsuit, not mine.

On behalf of teachers all across the state, I'm not going to let them blacken my reputation or bruise me any longer. Feel free to join me.

Stay tuned.

Read more about Dawn Neely Randall here. Many thanks Dawn and I'll be in touch.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Competency = Sheeple: My comment on EdSurge

Learn anything anywhere, you say

Not so much. The learning you describe is clearly confined to the "efficiency" that comes with the pared-down learning found via online modules that must gather data ever so efficiently in order to meet the demands of the market - NOT the demands of learners. In essence, what you are describing is a dumbed-down education system that is void of real, authentic messy learning that comes with democratic thinking among children and teachers - a democratic curriculum that is derived by watching and observing children and determining how to best support them using their strengths and their passions. 

This sort of learning (via modules) ultimately creates sheeple - learning is directed by the modules - and the modules are directed by the corporations - who need a workforce that is obedient and compliant. Observing a child click and stare at a screen in no way supports a child emotionally, academically, socially and physically - and the child clicking away is typically missing out on developmentally appropriate learning experiences that demand much more than sitting quietly staring at a screen. 

Online modules are unable to replicate the human interaction and relationships that are necessary to support the development of problem-solving productive citizens. Online modules cannot replicate eye contact, conversation,and the learning that is derived via play, children hovering over a picture book together, children singing, kids developing rules for a game on the playground, students working on a poster board to plan their presentation for their science inquiry, and more. However, online modules gather a ton of data which can be used to create great profit for the corporations. #optout

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Digital Badging & Hickenlooper: The Emperor Has No Clothes

I am spending my Halloween morning reading through all the docs related to a digital badge grant application here in Colorado (however this is moving nationwide so I recommend everyone take a look).

Beware the "Commission" - as they will be referred to in the near future. Our corporate governor Hickenlooper has signed an executive order for creating the Business-Experiential Learning Commission. The Commission will launch the Digital Badges initiative statewide, more or less creating a complete overhaul of our public education system and community colleges by tying data to the needs and future profits of the corporate community using our statewide longitudinal database to funnel your child's data.

The data will be used to document your child's skills (including "soft" skills) and the data will guide the curriculum of the public schools based on the market's demands. Note that the term "competencies" is used as you review the executive order - this goes back to the competency-based learning - therefore competency-based badges. Also note that there is not a SINGLE EDUCATOR appointed to the Commission.

I'd be lying if I didn't say this has completely overwhelmed me. I knew digital badging was coming. But to see it all in writing and to know what we must fight and where we are headed is just brutal at times.

But then Michael Peña, one of my fellow admins at United Opt Out​ said to me: The more we push, the more they push back.  The more they push back, the more extreme they have to get. They'll fail under the weight of that, Peggy. Have faith. Keep fanning the fire. Just when you think you can't possibly fight anymore, they give you something more extreme so you get up, breathe, get angry, and fight again.

I needed that reminder. Remember our role as activists. As they attempt to consume our schools and our children the absurdities at first unseen - will become publicly known. It is our job to expose them, mock them, find their weaknesses and tear them wide open. Have faith.

I will blog more on this Commission at a later date. I figured this one doc was enough of a fright to launch your Halloween. Don't let it scare you. Laugh in its face. Speak the truth about what is really happening here - a complete corporate takeover at all levels using data to direct and control the future lives of our children - keeping the profit with the privileged and creating a workforce  that is standardized, easy to manage, and paid little. We will expose this. And Hickenlooper will be the emperor who has no clothes. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

U.S. Dept. of Ed. and Educational Warfare

Obama has done a stellar job of launching a mainstream campaign to alert the public to his deep concerns around too much testing, the need for better testing, and testing that we embrace and love. Please remember, those who have destroyed your public schools won't suddenly do an about face to save them.

All of us however, have done a stellar job of creating the People's Movement - the Opt Out Movement. Hold how that makes you feel - and remember it. Remember the power you have, the relationships you have built, and keep that feeling strong and those relationships strong - as you will need it. 

But back to the new mainstream "testing" campaign.......

In HuffPost's Open Letter to America's parents and teachers Obama states: First, our kids should only take tests that are worth taking -- tests that are high quality, aimed at good instruction, and make sure everyone is on track. Second, tests shouldn't occupy too much classroom time, or crowd out teaching and learning. And third, tests should be just one source of information. We should use classroom work, surveys, and other factors to give us an all-around look at how our students and schools are doing.

It's interesting to see the choice of language being used in the Testing Action Plan as well as in his Open Letter. Much of the language alludes clearly to a shift to quick and snappy online daily testing as I mentioned in my post here earlier this week. The language is really about redirecting the conversation to usher in a new and better form of cash crop testing - testing that will be renamed I am sure - but for now it's best known as competency based testing, mastery testing, or proficiency testing. The idea being that children test daily and/or do homework online daily, moving seamlessly from one lesson to another - all orchestrated online by a computer program that gathers massive data (and surveys - data goldmine - which Obama was sure not to leave out) and requires minimal teacher support, minimal teacher training and allows for very large class size. And ultimately, it doesn't require the child to even be at a school. In the Testing Action Plan and the peer review letter (more on this below) I was unable to find the words "career ready" - we wouldn't want folks to know that the Common Core standards still exist under a variety of names across the country, allowing for frenzied data tagging to manage and control your child, our schools and ultimately our country. The language is shifting to a nicer, kinder, happier world of testing. Beware.

As Obama discusses the report by The Council of the Great City Schools he states: The report shows how much opportunity there is to eliminate redundant and uncoordinated tests -- and free up more classroom time for teaching and learning. 

As the U.S. Dept. of Ed. ushers in their Testing Action Plan and plugs mainstream media to make sure the masses and Opt Out , the People's Movement - believe we have been heard  - they almost simultaneously launch the previously suspended federal peer review process for state testing. 

State education officials received a letter from the U.S. Dept. of Ed. on Sept. 25, 2015 which shares a quick overview of the peer review process. They state that the "peers" reviewing each state's assessment system will NOT be U.S. Ed. Dept. folks - but rather, experts in the field. It will be fascinating to see the teams of "experts" in each state that join in to decide if a state's assessment system passes the federal ESEA requirements. There are three windows for states to submit their information for peer review - January, March and May. There is a new focus on participation data (see EdWeek) and it appears that they have a six month timeline to get all their info. in - however, if your state has the same test as another state  - you can work together to compile all your info. in order to get it done asap - sweet deal, right (incentive to save PARCC and/or SBAC consortium)? 

EdWeek states, "Importantly, states that are participating in one of the two consortia—or are using another test that's common to a significant number of states, can work on their peer-review submissions together.  That could give states that are using tests from either the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium an easier road, especially given the relatively tight timeline for peer review, said Scott Marion, the associate director of the Center for Assessment."

Six months. Six months to rush through your peer review of your state system. Under that kind of pressure, what might states do and what assistance might they take, to just get it done within the pressure cooker time frame? 

Well no worries. Assistance standing by. 

The Testing Action Plan as well as the letter regarding peer review to state school officials both share how the CCSSO will be available to help with resources. The peer review letter states: In addition, I know that the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has developed a plan to provide technical assistance to support you in preparing for peer review and will be providing that information to you shortly. The Testing Action Plan states: The Department will also share tools already available to do this work, including The Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO) Comprehensive Statewide Assessment Systems: A Framework for the Role of the State Education Agency in Improving Quality and Reducing Burden and Achieve’s Student Assessment Inventory for School Districts.

Damn these folks are nice. 

Morna McDermott sums it clearly here on her UOO postRemember CCSSO? They are the ones who crafted the Common Core State Standards. The standards were developed to create a “standardized” system that allows third-party companies to develop systems for outsourcing education. Now with a set of “national” standards as benchmarks, instruction can be metered out by online edu-tech companies who provide new “competency” based instruction and assessment. No teacher required.

To find out more about the Peer Review process check it out here and here and here. On page 32 they discuss policy and procedure for sharing student level data with assessment consortias and vendors - well, because the bottom line is this - our children's data is making folks buckets and buckets of money and creating a societal structure that allows them to control and manage our children in order to make MORE MONEY. This was never about the kids. 

Between the elections, the Testing Action Plan, the Peer Review process for state assessment systems and the potential ESEA reauthorization, all working simultaneously to support the dismantling of our public schools, everyone should expect an absolute flood of new more "creative, less redundant" testing and bonanza data sharing - coming to your district soon - all laced with language that is kinder, softer, and literally reaches out and tries to hold your hand. 

And this process is quietly being guided by the federal government/corporations, CCSSO, and supposedly expert peer review teams which we can be certain will include our reformy friends from various foundations and god knows where else. Of course, there will be federal funds to assist the states in getting rid of those pesky, awkward, repetitive tests that plague our schools. These new daily tests will not take much time because they will actually be embedded within the instruction and often - children won't even know it's happening. When online curriculum is testing and testing is online curriculum all tied to student grades and eventually digital badging there will be no way to gauge the amount of testing that even exists. It's all one and the same.

Regarding Obama and the whole conversation around limiting testing - there won't be less testing. The federal testing remains and now the feds will help the states implement the final blow - the testing that cannot be clearly seen or truly understood - like a stealth bomber - moving slowing and without sound through our public schools - and yes, engaging us - their enemy - as they blend in and take us out data point by data point until our public schools have vanished.  The states will finally seal the deal in taking full ownership and full leadership in destroying their own public schools.  A few years from now folks will look around at the destruction, the charter schools with 150 kids in a classroom being facilitated by a person with no teaching experience and/or REAL teaching degree - folks will wonder - how did this disaster occur? How did we not see it happening? 

It's happening now.

Folks will say....but I thought they were with us ?? 

No. They were never with us. Never. The privileged and the powerful will not stand with The People. It would defeat their entire purpose in being - to maintain and preserve and INCREASE their power and privilege.  

Revolution continues to be the only answer. If the test and punish system remains in any shape or form - then the structure remains for them to move silently forward with a new paradigm shift that will appear - at first - almost invisible to the public. Any sort of weak stance on our part that accepts any part of their plan allows them to move more quickly. The current federal dept. of ed. mainstream media testing campaign - which is occurring just in the nick of time - to support the peer reviewed state testing system process, is their latest attempt to cause us to hope and be appeased. 


Educate. Revolt. And remember. Remember what you know about public schools and the true possibility of a paradigm shift that includes fully-resourced public schools with democratic classrooms for ALL children and social policies which support our families and our communities. Remember that it is possible. Remember. Because right now, they are doing everything they can to make us forget. Solidarity. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Opt Out Revolution: The Next Wave

I keep getting texts, phone messages and emails telling me how happy folks are that Obama is now listening to us - and that Opt Out has been heard. This is heartbreaking for me - because this tells me that mainstream media has done a stellar job of co-opting Opt Out. We saw it happening. We warned that it was happening - and it indeed did.

Now, the country embraces Opt Out and folks are listening to Obama's words and thinking that we have a clear victory here. We do not. We are on a very slippery slope - one in which Opt Out can continue to drain them of their precious data but also one in which Opt Out must be ready for the next wave of this revolution. It will be a hard fought win - and it will require stamina like never before.

The next wave involves the U.S. Dept. of Ed's recommendations for testing reduction which also comes with funds to support states in getting there. And the scariest part is this - the GROUNDWORK IS COMPLETE. The feds/corporations did exactly what they came to do - they dangled carrots. They got high stakes testing systems in place with longitudinal data bases to carry the seamless productivity of the data. They loosened privacy regulations.  They got common standards out there which are essential for easy data tagging. They pushed and pushed and pushed to support charters and alternative teacher certification. They set the groundwork for the STATES to now lead the way - and they (feds/corporations) have their people in place on school boards, schools of education, depts. of ed., district admin., local gov't., "foundations", unions, and more.

And now, they simply have commiserated with the masses and said we need to reduce testing and make sure the testing that occurs is meaningful and does not take away from classroom instruction. This is accomplished so easily. It's called online daily computer based testing. Followed by online daily computer based instruction. Call it mastery testing. Competency based testing. Proficiency testing. Whatever you like. It will begin to fall in place very quickly as states move away from the hated interim testing and massive amounts of end of year testing. There will be less need for these large tests with quick, tidy, END OF DAY testing TIED TO STUDENT GRADES and STUDENT PROMOTION to the next grade/digital badge - whatever it may be - and of course testing which tells the teacher what the next day's online instruction must be. It's already happening. And now the federal gov't. is simply nudging it into the states' hands with a resounding message of support, an apology for overstepping their boundaries and a few bucks along the way to make it happen.

Opt Out was heard. Loud and clear. We are powerful. And so they have strategically planned their next step by co-opting/embracing Opt Out to get there. They've upped the ante. We knew they would. And I doubt I will see this revolution won during my teaching career - but I sure as hell won't let them trample me or our children now.

We have the power to take down this next wave as well - we, the people. There is a reason that UOO has always played hardball with absolutely no negotiations and with absolute understanding that this revolution requires tearing down the entire test/punish system - no matter what it morphs into - we do this because it is the ONLY WAY to be certain that children and public school communities receive everything they deserve - and let me tell you right now - it's the only damn way to win. 

The question is - are we ready? #optout #uoo16philly

Saturday, October 24, 2015

No Victory

There is no victory here. Obama's administration suddenly does not care about our children. King doesn't suddenly care either. These folks and their corporate cronies have been pummeling our public schools for how many years now and suddenly - now suddenly - they are listening and here to save the day? NO. As Morna McDermott (UOO admin) says - the folks who have been destroying you suddenly do not come up with a solution to save you. NO. Do not fall for the latest "testing action plan" from the US Dept of Ed. Arne is gone and now King (CHARTER SCHOOL KING???) is going to make things right? HELL NO. Not happenin'. They plan to roll out testing that is competency based - tied to our curriculum - impossible to opt out of - online - seamless - with no end of year test necessary. No victory. None.

I Wonder

Working in a district that is under “accreditation watch” while also working in one of the district’s “turnaround” schools brings intense stress and high stakes mandates everywhere you turn.

I wonder if folks understand what it’s like to feel guilty about asking your school to purchase you a trashcan? Or – being told there are certain resources you need – but knowing there is no money to buy them.

I wonder if folks understand what it’s like to teach reading (as a reading interventionist) to vulnerable children who have attended under-resourced schools FOR YEARS and having to pick and choose which of those vulnerable children gets support? Can you imagine the guilt?

I wonder if folks understand what it’s like to know EXACTLY WHAT STUDENTS NEED and to be told again and again that your root cause is not following the standards – or some other lame excuse that ignores poverty, high class size, and under-resourced buildings. Having taught in wealthy schools and under-resourced and high poverty schools and knowing what this looks like/sounds like, I wonder if folks truly understand what it means to teach reading to children with books galore in their homes versus children who have no books, no computers, and also speak a second language – I wonder if folks really understand what teaching reading looks like in those two situations – I wonder if they understand what is ultimately required of teachers in urban diverse schools in terms of pedagogy, scaffolding for second language learners and more?

I wonder if they understand that these teachers in urban diverse schools are not only amazing – but also passionate and hard working because they MUST BE to survive conditions under which they are publicly told they are failing again and again.

I wonder if folks understand what it’s like to be told to listen to non-educators who know NOTHING about teaching in an attempt to get out of turnaround (think slap in the face)?

I wonder if folks understand what it’s like to read the local paper which slams your district again and again, while watching privileged folks protect their wealthier districts by not making waves and continuing to tout those privileged, classist and racist test scores… they walk on by?

I wonder if folks really understand how such a situation creates great anger and frustration – when folks simply just won’t stand together and support the common good – but rather, they quietly protect their own. I wonder what they think?

And I wonder if they understand the ramifications not only for my school – but for their school and their children? Without public schools our democracy is doomed.

I wonder – what will they say ten years from now? What then? What now? ‪#‎optout‬ ‪#‎revolution‬

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Some Thoughts about the History of Opt Out

Right now there is a lot of discussion around the history of Opt Out. Ultimately Opt Out has been around for years. Here in Colorado, Don Perl refused to administer the test to his students in 2001- for starters! Also in 2001, Scarsdale, New York moms opted their 8th graders out of the state tests.

And while I appreciate the work and historical sharing of Opt Out via NPE it's important to recognize that Opt Out began long before any of us - including UOO. And, in actuality, New York Opt Out began as a result of NY folks attending UOO's Occupy the DOE - folks like Susan Schutt, Jean Schutt McTavish, Sara Wottawa, Gail DeBonis Richmond, Elizabeth Loizidis Lynch, Susan Horton Polos, and Kris Nielsen, all from NY came to Occupy DOE 2.0 and took Opt Out straight back to NY. They have always stated clearly that UOO's Occupy the DOE was the catalyst for Opt Out in NY. (my apologies if I forgot anyone  - see the schedule for additional folks from NY who also spoke!)

On March 2, 2013, Jeanette Deutermann (current LI Opt Out Leader) contacted me for support with Opt Out. Chris Cerrone, one of the UOO NY Opt Out Leaders, had already started Opt Out in upstate New York and I directed Jeanette to Chris Cerrone.  Sara Wottawa was the original LI Opt Out leader. So, NY Opt Out had already begun - I just think it's important to acknowledge the roots of this work. Chris Cerrone, Sara Wottawa and all the folks that attended Occupy DOE 2.0 were instrumental in getting NY Opt Out moving!

In addition, the launch of nationwide Opt Out occurred due to United Opt Out National supporting folks statewide in creating their own grassroots Opt Out groups - we created FB files for every state and eventually shifted this to our state guides at our website. We started UOO in August of 2011. And in 2011 our FB page was swamped with parents, students, teachers, and community members who utilized our resources and created their own local Opt Out groups (so many I can't list them - and many created without our support!). Many of the founders of UOO were also at the Save our Schools March in July of 2011 - which preceded the launch of UOO in August of 2011.

Another misconception is that only parents led Opt Out when it originated. UOO was created by six folks in 2011 - five of them teachers. And if you look just at Colorado - as I mentioned above, Don Perl refused to administer the test, and also - Angela Engel of Uniting 4 Kids (also a former teacher in CO) was sharing Opt Out information long before I joined in this important work! Also - of the NY folks I've listed - 7 out of 8 are teachers.

Teachers were very much leaders in the Opt Out movement - I think this is very important to share because teachers did step up and speak the truth. As a teacher, it's VERY important to me because I wouldn't want folks to think teachers have stayed silent during this nightmare. In addition, Ceresta Smith (UOO founder) opted her child out in 2011 as did Tim Slekar (UOO founder) and Michelle Gray from PA.  All of this is documented via blogs, emails and our book as well. No disrespect to anyone meant by this post - but it's just important to acknowledge folks who indeed were a part of the grassroots organizing to make this happen. This is the work of so many people - it truly is the people's movement - solidarity to all of you.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

This is NOT as Good as it Gets

I think what's really hard to stomach right now is that many children believe this is as good as it gets. Many don't know that they could receive more attention from teachers who have small class sizes. Many don't know that rooms plastered with data and standards ultimately mean nothing. Many don't know that their kindergarten classrooms should include blocks, painting, and kitchens (to name a few items). Many don't know that they deserve more recess. Many don't know that all these tests they take and all this test prep they do is actually a waste of time and robbing them of important learning time. Many don't know that the reason they feel wiggly is because they sit too long in their classrooms. Many don't know that they have a right to ALL of it - small class size, books, arts, librarians, counselors, nurses, REAL teachers, recess, play, portfolio assessment, delicious healthy lunches and more. Many don't know that they should have extracurricular activities AT their school FOR FREE. Many don't know that their learning should be planned and developed with their input. Many don't know that they've been targeted to serve the corporations in order to create a lot of profit for a few, by intentionally labeling these children as failures.

And I have to say, it's incredibly hard to face these children every day and smile and act like it's all going to be okay. This is not as good as it gets. And the silence is deafening. These are innocent children who have been thrown to the wolves. And they still show up every day, smiling, and being grateful for what they have, and I watch knowing that this is NOT as good as it gets. Not even close. The only way to stop this is an absolute uprising. The clock is ticking and this is probably what frustrates me the most. Politicians are okay with getting "a little" for kids when we know they deserve it all. Why do we stand by and allow this? Why? I am not okay with treating children this way. It's educational malpractice. And in some cases where no excuse models like KIPP exist to the fullest, it's absolutely criminal. Where is the uprising? ‪#‎revolt‬ ‪#‎optout‬

So Here We Stand: Opt Out in Dangerous Times

Four years ago they called us "Opt Out" folks crazy.  They laughed at us.

Then, at the UOO conference, over a year ago in Denver, our website was hacked and maliciously destroyed. At that point we clearly had become a threat.

Now, headed into year five we don't get hacked anymore, but everyone with loads of money and power is trying to ride the tails of Opt Out and/or co-opt it. Right now, in my opinion, is the most dangerous time for all of us. We are on the brink of winning, so they must try to appease us - this is where the whole "less testing" mantra comes in. Less testing is better than getting nothing right?? Wrong!!!! Remember - we must get all for all children. Do not negotiate and do not settle for less.

And then, they (corporate reformers) have to CLAIM the Opt Out message as their own because watching it come towards them like a stampede of wild stallions that is OUT OF THEIR CONTROL (yes, that's good), is honestly causing them to scurry in circles trying to figure out - how dear god - to rein us in!

So......what do they do? They create their own pathetic little inaccurate Opt Out guides (by ECS and NASBE) that show that "some legal" Opt Out is allowed in some states - - mind you these groups are FUNDED BY PEARSON, GATES, among others. And then..these big money power players share these pathetic guides with well known educational reporters and union leaders, to mention a few - and this gets shared in social media as the "guides" for Opt Out. (Ummm... Opt Out is an act of civil disobedience - no legal mumbo jumbo needed, but thanks). These guides they have created could actually discourage Opt Out because it brings forward the mentality that it must be legal to do it. Again, NO. We do not need anyone's permission to refuse these tests.  And do not forget that United Opt Out has the real guides, written by the people for the people over two years ago FREE OF CHARGE. We created these guides in order to make Opt Out easier for parents and students who are trying to navigate legal waters and deal with the harassment that comes under these incredibly high stakes conditions. We also have over 70 Opt Out leaders who walk parents and students through the Opt Out process (by phone, email, and in person) - sometimes taking weeks per Opt Out situation. This support is provided free, by the people, for the people. We at UOO have no money, only passion, determination, and an absolute belief that all children deserve whole, fully resourced public schools and social policies in place to support communities. This is grassroots - we cannot let it be co-opted.

So here we stand. They've mocked us, they've tried to destroy us, they've tried to appease us, and now they are trying to co-opt us and claim the Opt Out message. None of them EVER mention that our ultimate demand requires getting ALL for ALL children while also demanding social policies to support communities. Why don't they mention this? Because they want to keep the message around the "test." They can control that false reality which attempts to keep privilege in place; they can make money by reinforcing this "system" which continues to state that our schools, teachers, and children are failing. Without the test/punish system they have NOTHING.  This "reform" is built on a fraudulent system used to prey on children and absolutely devour and destroy public schools in our neediest communities.  The test/punish system does not support student learning - it does not support learning for ANY of our children.  It is stripping our schools of resources and learning opportunities for our children. It is definitely destroying any opportunity for democratic thinking as our children, teachers and schools have been placed in a fear-based environment which requires them to bow down to the test/punish system. We must tear it down and force politicians and our society to acknowledge poverty and acknowledge the need for equitable funding in order to have fully-resourced neighborhood public schools for all children.

Don't let them co-opt the message. Eyes open and question everything. This is the people's movement and we will stand strong and steadfast with our demands for our children and our country. ‪

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Understanding Teach Like a Champion

I'm currently in the process of reading Teach Like a Champion 2.0.  I'm reading it because it is one of the "go to" books shared via Relay Graduate School of  NYC, and unfortunately, their work is being spread far and wide here in Colorado in many of our districts, including mine. We are at a very precarious time in public education - our work as educators is being stripped from our schools and replaced by non-educator think tanks who pride themselves on high test scores.  Teach Like a Champion 2.0 is written by Doug Lemov. I'll let you read more about him here. Ultimately he is not an educator, but has great experience within the world of charter schools. He has two degrees in English and one in business. He is a corporate education reformer. Period.

To be honest, after reading over 100 pages of the book (there will be a follow-up blog when I finish reading the entire book), I have to say it's incredibly shallow and simplistic - yet the scary part is the dictatorial demand to keep everything shallow, uniform and simplistic. And as mentioned above, Lemov's beliefs about "teaching like a champion" are beginning to co-opt what true educators really understand about teaching, child development, and engaging learners.  This book is a great primer for reducing learning to uniform and robotic student behavior which is easy to "track" (Lemov's word - not mine) and manage, in order to get the results that you want. And the results that they want are high test scores. Lemov is clear in stating that this work is gauged via state test scores.

True learning is incredibly messy, but with an inherent structure in place to support the messiness. Those of us with vast experience in public education know this. And we also know that in order for true learning to occur, we must embrace the messiness, while all along keeping a structure in place to allow for the ebb and flow of learning.  We create routines and structures, with student input, to foster an environment which supports student engagement, student learning styles and interests, all the while making certain that our teaching is developmentally appropriate and meeting the needs of each learner.  If we have the necessary resources, the autonomy to teach, and a class size that allows for us to address each child's needs - amazing things can happen. If children have food, healthcare and books in their home we can move mountains. However, in this day and age - having everything necessary for all public school children to thrive mentally, physically, academically and emotionally - is rare, if not non-existent.

My experience includes teaching almost all grades Pre-K - 6 (never got to teach third!), serving as a district literacy coordinator, serving as a literacy coach, and working as an educational consultant.  I have supported the development of principals and teacher leaders across Colorado and I have worked with teachers nationwide to support their understandings of literacy instruction. I am currently a literacy interventionist in my 19th year of teaching.

In the 90's I had great autonomy to teach. The inquiries and projects my students completed would not even be possible under today's testing conditions.  Several of my classes opened restaurants - we literally opened a restaurant in our classroom and charged for meals. We designed the restaurant, shopped for the ingredients at the grocery store, and we made the pasta from scratch in our classroom. Students applied for jobs at the restaurant. We took reservations for parents and district staff to come and eat! Another example was with a sixth grade class in which we created a partnership with a nursing home. Each sixth grader had a friend at the nursing home where we visited weekly to plant flowers, read, sing, and develop relationships with these women and men at the home. The sixth graders interviewed their friends, researched the corresponding time period, and wrote biographies.  I had a fourth grade class who researched activists across the country who were making changes in their communities. These students really wanted to know how they could give back to the community.  We created our own service learning project and gathered food for food banks and worked at the food banks and served at a soup kitchen. We canvassed the neighborhoods gathering canned goods and other items to support families in need. I had other classes who raised money to end landmines that were harming children - we researched these countries and read about the impact on children and created a public campaign to end the landmines. What is interesting about all of these inquiries and projects is that we could connect them to every facet of our day - math, science, social studies, language arts, music, art, and on and on. Those are just a few of the learning opportunities my students had. 

I share my experiences because they are important in understanding what education can and should look like. Teaching and learning should not be uniform and defined within a box. Education begins with the students in the classroom, and we then build our curriculum around the students' strengths, needs and interests. Teachers each have their own talents, their own quirkiness and their own passions which influence their teaching. Students also have their own talents, learning styles and interests which influence how a class takes shape over the year - if indeed we wish for education to be truly intrinsically engaging and purposeful for students. Every classroom is unique - if indeed we are focused on equity for our students and their learning. Education that is standardized and is top down ultimately is dumbed-down.

Teach Like a Champion 2.0 is focused on uniformity. Lemov discusses the idea of standardized formatting for worksheets and note-taking. It is my experience that learners find that certain formats work for them and others don't.  I always share a variety of styles for note-taking with students and ultimately I let them pick what works for them as it's important that they are able to begin to discern how they learn best and what tools will best support their learning.  Classrooms must be equitable. In order to be equitable we must discern what is just and right for each student. We cannot demand all students use a tool if it does not meet their needs; this is why we have notebook paper with narrow lines, fat lines, no lines at all. This is why we have fat pencils, thin pencils, and pencil grips. This is why we want children to pick and choose their independent reading books. Uniformity ultimately destroys any chance of equity - again, considering what is fair and just for each individual student. At times do we all use a particular format - or process? Of course! But uniformity and standardization do not drive the learning - students do.

Lemov is very interested in teachers being able to quickly see the answers students are writing as they walk around the room - this is why he prefers standardization of note taking. Efficiency, mastery and getting it right is key.  On page 19 Lemov states that the purpose of order in the classroom is to promote academic learning.  I think the purpose of order in a classroom is to create a space which is safe and inviting for student's social, emotional, physical and academic learning.  Physically I want my students to be comfortable so that they can learn.  I want them to be able to move around the room as needed to meet their personal needs.  Of course, understand it's not a free for all, children aren't running willy nilly around the room - but they do stand if needed or cross their legs in their seats, and at times they spread their work out on the floor if that is the best space for their learning to occur.  Couches are a wonderful place for children to read and work. My students can have a very carefully articulated plan for the day as they maneuver around the classroom as needed to learn, as they get the necessary supplies, and or converse with the necessary people, to do their work at hand. We work as a community and develop spaces within the room to support our work as a whole group, small groups and as individuals. We trust one another. 

In contrast, Teach Like a Champion classrooms are typically rows of desks and the instruction videotaped is always whole group instruction, in which the teacher asks a question and a student answers.  So, if you were diagramming the conversation in the classroom on paper it would be straight lines from teacher to student - starting at focal point (the teacher) and spreading out like a fan.  Ultimately if you are wishing for a rich conversation that thrives on student talk you are looking for a diagram where the lines intersect. So, the teacher might talk, then a student, then another student responds, and another, and then back to the forth and so on. A classroom in which the teacher asks a question and pops from student to student is very dictatorial and ultimately lacks richness and depth of learning - if the teacher is continually directing the discussion then how do we know what the students are thinking and wondering?  Of the 46 videos I have watched so far the questions the teachers ask are pretty basic - questions about defining a word, a sentence starter - there are some deeper questions asked at the high school level, but the arrangement of the lesson and the classroom makes it truly difficult to really have a deep, rich conversation which builds and ultimately engages the learners in a way that develops student strengths and empowers their individual voices. There is definitely not space for individuals to come together to share and build a greater and bigger idea or thought as a result of student sharing.

I have yet to see any classrooms with tables. Tables are wonderful for classrooms where we value community, conversation, and working together. Out of the 46 videos I have watched so far I have seen only two tables for two small groups of children. I have 29 videos left to watch. 

Out of the 46 videos I've watched I've seen 12 teachers smile and/or laugh and 6 students smile and/or laugh.  Out of the six students who smiled or laughed 3 out of the 6 were due to a child having difficulty answering a question and/or making a mistake when answering.  In the videos, when a student talks in the classroom, it is only a result of the teacher allowing the student to talk.  In terms of what "talk" looks like, it takes form as a direct answer to a question from the teacher, popcorn reading (where the teacher calls on students to read a portion of a text - always a fun and relaxing strategy for readers who struggle), and 4 videos which showed a brief moment where children were allowed to partner talk (simply turning to the person next to you to converse). Another form of talk that takes place occurs when the teacher requires the entire class to repeat something in unison - there is a lot of parroting back what the teacher says.

There was one video - out of 46 that I have watched -  in which a child showed some emotion and said "Oh!" as he raised his hand in excitement to answer a question. There is very little, if any emotion displayed, within any of these videos.  When children are forced to comply with such great constraints and boundaries I can imagine that after awhile the emotion is beaten out of them. There are some teachers who exhibit some emotion and kindness, but the children are only allowed to exhibit any kindness to their peers in the form of hand signals or a statement of encouragement shouted in unison as a whole class. On page 11, Lemov points out that a child smiles in a video in which the teacher asks them to pass out papers faster. As Lemov explains how the students are passing out papers quickly in order to increase time for learning in the classroom he states, "The students, by the way, are happy as can be.  They love to be challenged and love to see themselves improving. They are smiling."

Students love to see themselves improving at passing out and collecting papers? *sigh* Such an insult to the children. But I'll move pass that and talk about papers for a minute.

The videos are full of papers. I get that there is a lot of paper in classrooms, but these papers in the videos typically come in the form of worksheets and packets - seat work. I found it interesting that when they read passages from a text they didn't have actual books in front of them (based on what I've seen so far) -they typically had a worksheet. 

On page 12 Lemov states, "Few schools of education stoop to teach aspiring teachers how to train their students to pass out papers, even though it is one of the most valuable things they could possibly do."

Wow.  I don't even know what to say to that. Perhaps the best thing to say is that that statement pretty much exemplifies the depth of the entire book. Honestly, reading the book and watching the videos is terribly depressing.

The sections I have read in the book so far deal with getting students to answer questions and making sure that the answer is (god I hate this word) "rigorous." Students must answer questions and if they can't answer the question they must repeat the answer after another student or the teacher gives the answer.  At one point in the book (p.92) he shares an example of a student who doesn't parrot back the answer and he states that the child will have to come in at recess because this is a "case of defiance."  So - not "parroting" back an answer is defiant?  Defiance is defined as a daring or bold resistance to authority or to any opposing force. I personally wouldn't parrot it back because I'd find it insulting. I'm not a dog who needs to repeat a trick in order to be "trained." If this is considered defiant I fear for the child who feels the need to scream and throw these worksheets in the trash.  

In regard to rigorous - there is much discussion about "rigorous" content. On page 84 Lemov discusses how it saddens him that Diary of a Wimpy Kid is one of the most read titles in sixth grade.  It is not considered rigorous enough. He obviously has not read the research on pleasure reading.  But again, he is not a true teacher, so that is to be expected.

There is lots of discussion around errors. I always find this to be a fascinating pattern within books by non-educators. They focus on the negative. I have always used students' strengths to build on their attempts and next steps. However, in this book the focus is on creating a culture of error where students feel comfortable making errors and teachers scan for evidence of "incomplete mastery."  I agree that students should feel comfortable taking risks in a classroom, but his concept of error and getting it "right" are so different than mine.  In a democratic classroom we take risks continually, and when we  problem solve and figure it - often together - it's a process of learning versus this idea of searching for the errors and getting it right. I believe that the process of learning is full of risks and ultimately, NOT necessarily the right answer, but perhaps......another question?

Lemov uses the word "tracking" a lot. Teachers track students, rather than "watch" students and students must track the speaker. It really feels a bit like hunting when watching the teachers "track." They are looking for specific answers and they will hunt the answer down until they get it. There isn't a sense of students really ever working together to problem solve and/or determine some finite answer (this is very much about finite answers) - it's more that the teacher directs the hunt until he or she hears or sees the answer. It's very much whole group instruction with individual seatwork to determine "mastery" of the direct instruction. The definition of "tracking" is different for students. When the students track, they literally must shift their whole body to face the speaker - it's a rather robotic movement to observe. I think about sitting in meetings and how teachers respond when someone speaks - I don't believe I've ever seen an entire group of adults literally shift all their bodies to turn and listen to someone speak - and I definitely haven't seen it happen in unison.

There is a lot of unison in body movement and speech.  Some of the teachers snap their fingers to demand all students say a word at the same time. Teachers will ask all students to repeat something like, "adverbs end in -ly."  There were some moments where children were reprimanded and you could hear the teacher saying quietly "Laughing is ten dollars." or "I'll call your mother." If I were a child in one of those classrooms I would positively have exploded under the pressure of keeping my body still and my voice still. All students must be sitting up very straight. Many classrooms have the students folding their hands on the desk at all times - and if they raise their hand, they very quickly rush the hands back to folded position when they are done answering the question. When students raise their hand they are praised for how high and straight the arm is.  If they praise a student they will often ask the whole class to repeat a phrase like, "Way to go, you!"

I can't sit still for more than ten minutes in a meeting before I must shift my body. If I am required to sit still for too long I ultimately feel very agitated. I wonder how the children feel? And how does this impact how they act when they are finally able to leave school?

All the classes are mainly children of color in the 46 videos I have observed so far. Out of the 46 videos there was only one video in which the children did not wear uniforms. I wonder, where are the wealthy districts in suburbia in these videos? Has this been tried out at Sidwell? 

There are all sorts of whole group movements like banging on the desk or doing rock paper scissors all at once to determine an answer to a multiple choice question. Hand gestures are used continually to replace actual speech.

I have grave concerns about this book being used in any school as a model of techniques which support student learning. The fact that I have to explain this in a blog clearly signals a very sad period of time in the history of public education in our country. There is no room for student learning styles in terms of how students sit, talk, or process their learning using these techniques. There is no respect for culture  - some children come from cultures in which eye contact is actually disrespectful. There is no respect for specific learning needs of children - what about the child who does not process quickly, yet is required daily to participate in the gut wrenching practice of cold calling (in which a teacher rapid fires questions at random children with no think time for the child). These strategies are absolutely detrimental to the second language learner or the child with learning disabilities as there is no scaffolding or additional supports to meet their needs.  Children will simply become compliant or..... they will revolt, and then, they will be asked to leave the school. We must remember, few charter schools accept all children and these techniques come straight from charter schools. Charters are also excellent at counseling children out of the school. There is not a single video I have observed yet that shows children independently moving around the room. The children move like robots and the teachers dictate their every move. 

Lemov believes that all these techniques create efficiency and therefore better use of time for students to reach "mastery." What I observe is a large amount of time wasted parroting motions and words that require minimal thinking but 100% compliance. I do not observe any authentic learning. The children are expressionless. In a classroom of vibrant learning you can feel the buzz and hear the buzz of learning. These classrooms feel more like boot camp.

As an educator I have a vast array of approaches I use to support children.  My bachelor's is in Elementary Education and my master's is in English as a Second Language, so I understand clearly the many scaffolds and teaching methods that can be used to meet the needs of a diverse group of students. Yet, in these videos of diverse classrooms, the only approach I have observed is whole group direct instruction.

Where are the chatty children who are engaged in learning as they lean over a project or book? Where are the smiling children?  Where are the excited children who are bubbling over with information about their learning, their friends, their family and their school?  And where are the sad children who need the extra moment to talk quietly with the teacher about how they were up all night due to a parental fight?  The children have no emotion. After watching 46 videos of children with absolutely no expression on their faces - minus only six children who let out a brief smile or laugh - I literally wanted to cry.

There is a reason I am absolutely livid over this book. There is a reason I am angry that Colorado - and the rest of the country - is allowing this book and the Relay Graduate School to infiltrate their schools.  When I read the book and watch the videos, all I can think of is fascist, racist times in history in which children were harmed. Corporate education is devouring our children - specifically - our neediest children.  It is gut wrenching to watch the students in these videos.  I know what is possible in a school community - a school where vibrant learning occurs and students and teachers are engaged - with purpose, passion and humanity. Sadly, the strategies in this book adhere to very direct instruction and dictatorial behavior models which strip children of their identity and culture - all in the name of high stakes tests scores. There is no equity here. There is no justice for children.