Saturday, January 31, 2015

Do Not Support Colorado Parents' Bill of Rights (SB15-077)

Colorado Alert everyone!!!!

Parents and students are reaching out to me, asking questions after having been encouraged to testify on February 5th in support of a bill known as the "Parents' Bill of Rights" or SB15-077. Beware! Any positive elements of this bill - like opting out in limited circumstances - will be cancelled out by horrifying provisions that will have lasting impact on our children and public education system.

The bill's prime sponsor, Jeffco Sen. Tim Neville, is the brother-in-law of Jeffco School Board member Julie Williams. Last fall, Williams received national attention after hundreds of students walked out in protest over her proposal to create a curriculum review committee aimed to censor and sanitize the A.P. U.S. History program and elementary health curriculum. Weeks later, Sen. Neville and Sen. Laura Woods, who is a co-sponsor of the Parents' Bill of Rights, received a slap on the wrist for using the Jeffco Public Schools logo on their campaign propaganda. When reached for comment about the Jeffco controversy and his use of the logo, Sen. Neville stated "The crisis we're seeing in Jeffco Schools could be eliminated by giving more control back to parents and students."

This statement is the genesis of Sen. Neville's Parents' Bill of Rights  - giving more control to "parents and students." So how does Sen. Neville propose to give control to parents? His bill would mandate that school boards create policy that must include procedures for parents such as:

Public review of textbooks and courses of study.

You read that right. The Parents' Bill of Rights would legally allow any ideological board of education in the state of Colorado to follow in William's footsteps and select which version of history, science and health should be taught to our children. (Read full bill text here.)

Please DO NOT support the Parents' Bill of Rights. Like most pieces of legislation, anything positive in this bill will be overshadowed by the negative. In this case, the shade is even darker and colder than the black cloud hanging over Jeffco.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Teachers who Refuse to Administer High Stakes Tests

The list is growing by the day.  Who else will join? As the list grows I will update this blog post.

Judy Dotson – Washington (objects to administering the test)
Susan DuFresne – Washington (objects to administering the test)
Becca Ritchie – Washington (objects to administering the test)

Dan Hornberger - Pennsylvania (refused to administer PA Keystone Exams)

Anonymous refusal: A teacher has successfully refused to administer the upcoming common core test by stating anxiety as a medical issue, which makes it impossible for her to administer the test. I know there is some concern that this might lead to a teacher dismissal/stating they are unable to perform their job, but regardless, in this case it was successful and I think it's important to share as it might work for some!

Kathleen Jeskey - Oregon

Jan Hayden Well - Oregon 

Dale Weiss - Wisconsin

Cathy Jester - Wisconsin

Solidarity to all of you.

We refuse to obey unjust laws. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Stand Between the Children and Those Who Wish to Harm Them

Recently I wrote a post entitled "It's Time to Break the Rules." I intend to keep my posts over the next few months focused on the common core aligned tests that are now coming to fruition in 2015.  As we reach the tipping point - breaking rules - acts of civil disobedience - are a necessity

At our fourth annual UOO conference this past weekend in Ft. Lauderdale, Barbara Madeloni reminded us of the importance of grassroots organizing as she stated: "Look down here. That's where the vectors of power are."  We must gain our strength and power from the local grassroots movements that surround us.  UOO's FB page has been soaring in numbers over the last six months as the word of opt out continues to spread through the nation. As all of us spread the word of opt out we are increasing the power of the masses  - we can reclaim our democracy, by beginning with the cornerstone of our democracy - our public schools.  No data = no profit.

This weekend, Ira Shor reminded us of the importance of protecting our children.  As an adult it is our job to stand between our children and those who wish to project harm on innocent young minds -  children  -  who come to school to learn, to create and to express themselves in a safe environment which should allow for risk-taking.

I question how we can stand by and watch the danger of high stakes testing mandates permeate our schools, and our children - without standing up for action - without standing between our children and those who wish to project this harm upon them. 

I can promise you  - if anyone dared to harm either one of my boys - I would stand between that harm and my boys - and I would project the greatest amount of power I possessed physically and mentally to stop that harm from touching my children. And I would ask for help from others if need be - and I can promise you - I would win.  As I say this, I must state that I feel the same way about the children within my school.  The time is now for us to harness this power within our schools as we bring together parents, citizens, students and teachers to create strategy to stop the cold and hard cruelty of corporate education reform.

We  must stand between the children and the harmful mandates that are being used to fail them mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Colorado's suicide rate has increased 16.7 percent from 2012 to 2013 alone.  We must question why countries, such as China and Japan, where high stakes testing is rampant, have such high suicide rates.  We must question - what is becoming of our country? And do we care enough to stop it? Or have we been placated by the consumerism that surrounds us? 

The majority of our public school children live in poverty - yet we feed them tests? 

At #UOO15 in Ft. Lauderdale Krashen continued to focus on the need for nutrition, health care and books for our children living in poverty. Krashen asks - does anyone really believe that as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, that test scores will improve?   

Does anyone really believe that this achievement gap is "new" information that could only be gathered via NCLB and RTTT?  We have had the NAEP since 1969 - enough said. And as we test our way to the bottom, our achievement gap continues to tell us the same thing again and again - we have under resourced schools - we have abandoned schools - we have poverty and no equitable funding.

It is time to stand between our children and these unjust laws.  How we choose to take that stand will vary, based on our ability to gain strength from our local unions, based on the support we receive in our individual school buildings, and based on our own fortitude. 

Teachers - the time is now.  As Krashen states, the K-12 budget is 800 billion - most of it is for teacher salary, retirement and benefits - and Bill Gates wants it.  The elimination of the teaching profession is in the works.  We must speak up now.

It is not enough to simply shut the classroom door. It is not acceptable to ignore what is happening around us and walk on by. It is not acceptable to remain uninformed. It is not acceptable to say, "This too shall pass."  We must gather out strength, on the inside and outside - we must use our words, our increasing numbers as we work together, our creativity, and  our fortitude to move forward and stand between our children and those who wish to harm them.

I look forward to the day when I can go to work at my school, knowing that we, as teachers, simply refuse to allow this harm to take place. We refuse to be a part of it. We refuse to allow it. And we stand together with our parents, our children, and our communities as we opt out of high stakes common core aligned testing and as we opt into democracy.  Everything is possible. We simply must harness our own strength. And we must shift our own narrative; as teachers we must take the lead as we inform the public about the wrong-doings of these district, state and federal mandates. 

The power of fear will be weakened as we hold hands.  Fear will be extinguished as we find our voices and we claim the conversation. Fear becomes obsolete when we realize that together - we hold the power.  The time is now.

 Many thanks to all who attended #UOO15 and sent me back to Denver replenished, and ready to fight.  Solidarity. 

The wind at your back.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

It's Time to Break the Rules

I have to be honest. I have never been good at following any rules that harm children or harm anyone in the public schools -  throughout my entire profession as a teacher. As I stand in the midst of my 18th year of teaching, I am amazed by the aggressive force with which the gauntlet is being thrown down across the nation as a threat or challenge to any students, teachers, or parents,who dare not to follow these "rules" or laws, that we know are unjust. We must administer these high stakes tests, force feed them to children, and the children must like them, and persevere with grit and rigor - for the good of our nation.

I am also fascinated by those who believe that a teacher's refusal to administer harmful high stakes tests is an act of insubordination, and THEREFORE (they believe), these teachers deserve to face the consequences and be punished.  Somehow, I have this image of folks throwing rocks at these teachers as the teachers stand in the middle of the circle - folks mocking them and jeering at them - casting stones with glee.

I can't erase that image from my mind for some reason.  Having been in the presence of folks who are such strong "rule followers" - that they would indeed cast the first stone if we lived in another time in history, or perhaps another place; is truly, an eerie, chilling experience.  

I, personally, can't imagine shaking my finger at ANY parent, teacher, or student who wishes to participate in an act of civil disobedience that indeed breaks some rules as a necessity - IN ORDER to protect children and do what is just and right in the name of humanity and in the name of a democracy that has lost its way.

When I think about this as a reality - I really question, what has become of our society? Our democracy?

If we are truly in such a space, a space in which adherence to horrible, cruel, life-destroying rules trumps doing what is right for our children, what indeed, is to become of us?

I'm not sure.

There are folks out there who believe we should simply wait for policies to change - and that we should work patiently with these policy makers.  Okay...I'll do that, while I scrape the paint off the walls in my living room using my finger nails - heck, we've got NOTHING but time, right?

And as PARCC, SBAC, and the other common core tests rear their ugly heads in 2015?  Tick. Tock. Tick Tock.

There are folks out there who are happy to accept the smidgen of cake that will be offered to all of us this year as policies are tweaked in order to appease those who are not "rule followers."

There are also folks out there who are happy to watch the entire public school system come crumbling down as they set their sights on careers, profit and status in the near future.

Finally, many out there are quietly moving forward, not mentioning the fact that the "less tests, better tests, common core stays" mantra is permeating every policy across the nation in order to keep the data mining in place and keep the cash flowing as they privatize public schools. (They don't mind moving at a bit slower pace...the end goal is the same for them.)

Few, if any, are mentioning poverty.

When I do mention poverty, I find that I receive one of the following reactions:

Kudos to you Peg for mentioning poverty (almost like they punched me in the shoulder to show their approval) followed by.....moving on to the next action item.  In one ear...out the other..

Or - they get angry with me. How dare I use poverty as an excuse for children? These children are every bit as capable as children in high income areas!!! That's right - they can do it...on an empty stomach, living in a car, without books, healthcare - they will pull themselves up by their bootstraps and carry on! How dare you presume otherwise, Peg? 

Or, finally, first they do this *yawn* *brief eye roll, stare at ceiling, then look at clock as though in a terrible hurry *  - and then they say,  yep...nobody's gonna change any policies that create equitable funding and erase childhood poverty this year - what else ya got, Peg? Give us something we can DO something with -  sheesh (as they think...omg would this Pollyana shut up already....)

The most beneficial response I have received from a fellow activist is this (after I bombarded her with questions about why folks ignore poverty - minus of course the obvious ones...  .01% stays in power and we become serfs).  The truth is this, most simply can't fathom what it is like to live in poverty. Therefore, when you describe scenarios to them, it simply doesn't sink into their soul, their toes, and it sure as hell doesn't light a fire under their asses, requiring them to do something to create change.

And sadly, we live in a country grounded in consumerism; a country where folks will stand in line - in the cold - over night - in order to be the first to get the new iPhone. 

We don't need gold stars for mentioning poverty. We need action to protect children from poverty. We need the masses to wake up and defy the slow conditioning that has been used to pull the wool over everyone's eyes, as they have stripped us of our ability to think, make decisions, and act.

And I wonder, how far is "rule following" going to get us this year? 

As we follow the rules to introduce bills in the legislature, as we follow the rules and dutifully give tests which are not proven to be reliable or valid, all within a high stakes testing environment, just how far will this "rule following" get us?

Not far.  

That is why, this is the year for nonviolent civil disobedience, in the name of children everywhere.

This is the year we must stand tall and refuse to allow the policy makers to believe that they have indeed appeased us - just enough - in order for them to continue to move forward with their corporate ed. reform agenda, simply using new strategies and a bit of a longer timeline.  

(Seriously read the Zimba piece in NPR if you want to see their newest strategy...Zimba is JUST as frustrated as we are by the rollout of common core..he's so frustrated that he has no choice but to create CC curriculum for our schools! I mean..sheesh....he's just a guy trying to help his daughter with math on Saturday mornings!)

The arrogance is forever astounding. We are surrounded by it at all levels of this game.

It is time to break the rules. 

Nonviolent civil disobedience is necessary if we hope to save public schools and if we hope to halt the harm that is currently occurring to our children across the nation, as they are required to take high stakes tests which harm students, teachers, schools and communities.  

Parents must refuse high stakes tests in mass.  Teachers who are able, must refuse to administer the tests. Student activists must educate other students and share with them the knowledge necessary to determine if they indeed #choosetorefuse. Citizens everywhere must stand up and help our communities fight back.

For those rule followers who stand ready to cast the first stone in the form of firing teachers, bullying children who come to school with opt out/refusal letters, and more - drop your stone in this crumbling democracy and stand with us  - as we fight back. And as we win.