Sunday, March 22, 2015

Littleton Public Schools, Colorado: Will You Stand on the Right Side of History?

Last Thursday night I addressed the Littleton School Board. See video here. Here are my comments.

My name is Peggy Robertson. My son, Sam, is a sophomore at Littleton High School. I am a teacher in the Aurora Public School District and I am also one of the founders of United Opt Out National, an activist group which works hard to end the privatization of public schools. I want to thank all of you tonight for doing your civic duty to support public schools and to support  children, teachers, and the communities within the Littleton School District.

Tonight I want to talk about the truth. I want to talk about what is really happening in our public schools today and I am going to ask that everyone here consider this truth, and consider our civic duty, our moral obligation, to expose this truth and educate the Littleton school community.

The truth is this. The truth is that our public schools are using high stakes testing to punish students, school communities and now, under SB191, the testing will punish teachers. The testing creates an environment that is fear-based, shaming, and  demands teaching to the test.  In Aurora, where I work as  a literacy coach at an elementary school, I have had only 4 weeks of the year which were uninterrupted by testing.   The tests consume our year and create a system which develops compliant test takers. These tests deny our children authentic learning experiences.  They deny our teachers the ability to teach.

I would ask that the school board and the administrators take a lead in exposing this testing profit machine for what it is.  It is a system that profits corporations on the backs of children and teachers. The common core standards and the national tests are a cash cow for the corporations. The profit of the testing industry has increased 57% in the last three years.  Under SB191, this system will demand teaching to the test like never before. These high stakes testing mandates  reward  only the very privileged – yet even these rewards are hallow – as these test scores simply point to zipcode. 

Littleton Public Schools has done quite well under this high stakes testing regime. Children from affluent neighborhoods often do well on these high stakes tests.  It doesn't mean that these children are smarter than other children, it simply means that they come from homes filled with books. Homes where food is plentiful.  And typically, homes where family and the community have the resources to create a support system to help these children as they grow into problem-solving citizens.

As you know, Littleton Public Schools was accredited with distinction by the CDE this past year.  We continue to achieve high test scores and we continue to ensure high real estate values.  These test scores mean nothing.  They assess narrow learning. They are racially and culturally biased.  And under PARCC, the READ Act, and CMAS social studies and science, these tests are denying our children real learning opportunities.  It is anticipated that PARCC will fail 70% of Colorado’s children.  These high stakes tests inflict the most harm on our neediest children: our children with exceptional needs, our children who suffer from emotional stresses, our second language learners, and our children who live in poverty. 

My son's high school, Littleton HS,  has a free/reduced lunch rate of approximately 26%. I wonder how those children will do on the PARCC test?  I wonder if they will receive the elective credit for PARCC that my son's high school is offering?   How can it be just and right to offer bribery - elective credit - for a test that is not yet even valid or reliable? A test that simply profits corporations and rewards the very privileged? The school where I teach in Aurora has a 76% free and reduced lunch rate.  Over 40 languages are spoken in my school.  Our children are brilliant.  They are creative. Our teachers are phenomenal.  Imagine trying to teach in a fear-based environment with hungry, smart children who speak multiple languages. Imagine trying to do right by these children in a fear-based environment which rewards only  the privileged. We also have 60 homeless children. I wonder how my students in Aurora will do on PARCC - a test that is two grade levels above the readability for the grade being tested? A test that demands typing skills from children who don't know how to type. A test that punishes children who don’t have technology in their homes.  I know how my students have done on TCAP in the past.   I know that my school is labeled as a turnaround school.  I know what that label does to children, teachers and school communities. I wonder if Littleton could possible understand what that feels like? What that does to a child's soul? To a school community? To be told we are failing when indeed we are not.  

Privilege is an amazing thing. It can be used to help and it can be used to harm.  It is time that Littleton stood on the right side of history. Let's use our privilege to expose the truth  - the educational malpractice that is occurring across our district and all of Colorado at the hands of these unjust mandates.   If you watch the news, there are principals, school board members, and superintendents all over the country sharing the harms of high stakes testing.   Tell the public the truth. PARCC is being used to fail children, teachers, and school communities. PARCC, CMAS, testing under the READ Act are making lives miserable for teachers and students.  Teachers cannot teach and children cannot learn in meaningful ways under these harsh conditions.  I have refused to administer the PARCC in Aurora. I refuse to allow my son to take PARCC or any other high stakes tests that can be used to punish and fail children. I trust Sam's teachers to assess my son. It is our civic duty to speak the truth and end this educational malpractice.  Teachers know how to assess.  Students  want to be engaged in purposeful authentic learning – not online test prep and online testing. On Littleton High School's website it asks that I contact my legislators.  Right now, the legislature is nothing but political theater.  It is time for our district and our parents to stand up and make the legislators listen to us. 

There is no penalty for opt out this year. There is no loss of federal funding. I recommend that the school board share that information with Littleton parents.  If parents understand that there is no penalty, and if they understand how PARCC and other high stakes tests are being used to deny our children real learning opportunities, many parents will refuse to allow their children to take these tests. Many parents will use their privilege to save public schools for the common good. We must demand that our legislators change policies to funnel money to support schools with wrap around services for poverty, small class size, librarians, nurses, counselors, and more. We must protect our teachers from the harmful effects of SB191 which could indeed tie 50% of our evaluation to these test scores. Be a leader in this movement to restore real learning to our classrooms and demand equitable funding for our public schools.

Thank you.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

ALEC, Pearson, Gates & Opt Out Bills vs. Civil Disobedience

I am not a supporter of opt out bills. This surprises lots of folks. Opt out bills distract from the real issues. Opt Out is NOT an anti-testing movement. We support teacher-created tests, portfolios, projects - all the things that allow teachers to determine how best to support their learners. Opt Out is a social movement which gains its power through the act of refusing the tests - an act of civil disobedience which denies the government and the corporations the much coveted data.  Data is the new gold. Refusing the tests, as an act of civil disobedience, is absolutely necessary in order to restore learning to our classrooms while demanding wrap around services and equitable funding for all schools.  Opt out bills do nothing to change the inequitable conditions in our public schools that legislators continue to ignore.  If Opt Out is legal, we can be guaranteed that our schools will still have racially and culturally biased high stakes tests.  Our schools will still funnel money to corporate testing and the technology for testing - a never ending cash cow.   Our schools will still lack nurses, librarians, libraries, art, music, PE, counselors and more.  Our schools will still operate within the confines of a fear-based environment which requires teaching to the test all year long. Our schools will still be segregated and void of democracy. Children will continue to be harmed. Teachers will continue to commit educational malpractice against their will.

Opt Out as an act of civil disobedience is necessary in order to force the government to change immoral and unjust laws.  

I do not need permission to opt out. Opt out bills proclaim to the masses that Opt Out must be legal in order for parents and students to refuse the tests.  If Opt Out is legal, and all repercussions are removed, they have just placed us back in the mode of servitude to the corporations via government mandates. Nothing changes. We lose our power and we lose the mass awakening that is occurring across the country as individuals look around and recognize that our democracy is being dismantled via the take down of our cornerstone, our public schools.

There is much to pay attention to as we gain power via Opt Out. It's important to recognize that co-optation of this social movement could indeed mean the decline of the Opt Out Movement.  

ECS , Education Commissioner of States, recently came out with a document that shares the legalities of Opt Out.  ECS is funded by Pearson and Gates, among others.  As Morna McDermott so astutely shares re: ECS,  "It's a Who's Who of ALEC membership."  

So, now ALEC supports sharing legalities of Opt Out?

ALEC, who is hell bent on privatizing public schools? ALEC, who is happy to throw the peasants a bone as ALEC methodically moves forward, ever so patiently, in their plans to destroy the teaching profession and dismantle the public schools?

Why do the corporations (Pearson, Gates, GE, Waltons, State Farm, Lumina, etc.) suddenly want to share the legalities of Opt Out? And why is ECS suddenly mainstream media's fav for explaining Opt Out?  Pay attention to who shares the ECS doc.  Recognize that there is a movement afoot to deny citizens the ability to use Opt Out as a powerful strategy that can ultimately demand that our legislators change immoral unjust laws. Recognize that if opt out bills pass, and the movement is co-opted by Pearson, Gates, and all who love ALEC,  Opt Out could lose its power.

I am certain of one thing - ALEC (via ECS) would not publish a document that allowed us, the masses, to gain power. ALEC intends to take us down - all of us - the schools, the students, the teachers, and our public school communities. 

While everyone circles around the opt out bills and rallies to "protect" some of us from those punitive measures enforced via federal mandates, know that the privatization of public schools will continue. Many children will continue to be harmed. All children deserve to be protected. ALL children deserve an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue.  

Why would we settle for less?

The public will continue to be distracted by messages of "legal" opt out while ignoring poverty. Opt Out is an act of civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is the refusal to obey certain laws or governmental demands for the purpose of influencing legislation or government policy.  

If Opt Out is legalized across the country, the necessity to change laws becomes less urgent. Folks will be appeased for a bit, allowing those who privatize to continue to move forward methodically as they push forward their long term goals.  They are happy to appease us from time to time - it's no skin off their back - they're still slowly dismantling our democracy and making billions as the data continues to flow ever so freely, via common core standards and high stakes testing.

Are we opting out simply to protect our own? Or, are we opting out in order to create a fundamental shift in our country? A shift which demands all for our children. A shift which restores democracy and humanity.

As opt out bills come to fruition, pay attention to who supports them - which powerful organizations are suddenly jumping in to ride the wave of Opt Out? Which individuals have appeared out of nowhere? How might supporting Opt Out SUPPORT them in keeping a seat at the table? Granted, there are many good folks who support opt out bills, including many of my allies, but there are also many folks keeping their seat at the table and using the bills to defeat a powerful social movement that demands all for all children. 

Who knew Pearson and Gates wanted to share with the country how folks can go about opting out? Pearson and Gates, via ECS, are now the "voice" for opt out?  How might they benefit from this?  The love is overwhelming.  Sucks the air right out of you doesn't it?

Eyes Open. Wide. Do not let this movement get co-opted

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Littleton High School Gives Elective Credits for Proficiency on PARCC. Who Will Be the Winners? Losers?

Sharing my correspondence re: my son's high school's plan to give elective credits for proficient PARCC scores. ELL students, children of poverty, special needs children, children with anxiety and other emotional stresses, children who are talented in ways that cannot be measured on a high stakes standardized tests, all lose. Again. 

Date: Wed, 4 Mar 2015 19:28:55 GMT

Hi -----,
Is PARCC participation and/or results going to be used to make any student decisions - such as rewards, extra credit, part of final grade for a class, credit towards graduation, counted towards homework or a final exam,  etc?



Peggy Robertson

Date: Thu, 5 Mar 2015 16:50:07 -0700
Hello Ms. Robertson,

Thank you for your inquiry.

We do not use the results of PARCC to make any student decisions such as rewards, extra credit, part of a final grade for a class, or count it towards homework or a final exam. However we do offer students one elective credit per grade level 9-11 if the student scores proficient or above on all of the PARCC tests. These tests give us an important picture of the achievement and academic growth of students over time. The results are not only part of the state accountability system, but also guide our school improvement planning. 


Fri, Mar 06, 2015 08:16 AM

Hi -----------------,

Well, as a teacher of 18 years, I have yet to find any use for any of these high stakes tests. They continue to point to zipcode and continue to say that children, teachers, and schools are failing when in reality, they are not failing, they simply are under resourced (as a community and as a school). In the elementary schools, this testing consumes almost the entire year - especially in schools of high poverty. Sadly, these children, with the greatest need, get tested more than anyone. At my school I have only had four weeks of the school year which have not been interrupted by some form of testing. ACCESS, PARCC, CMAS and the second wave of PARCC consume our year from January to May. Truly, we test the rest of the year. How can this be good for children and why would we reward this - therefore giving it value?

I am wondering if any children of poverty, children with special needs, and /or children with anxiety and other emotional stresses, children who are talented in ways that cannot be measured on a standardized test,  will receive the elective credit?

I teach in Aurora in a school with a high poverty rate where over 40 languages are spoken. We try to fill 180 food bags weekly for these children who have no food to eat over the weekend. I am quite certain what the results of PARCC will say about them - and all of it lies. And considering we are not allowed to look at the test, I can't figure out how in the world such a test could in anyway support me in planning for instruction. And of course the fact that we know it will be racially and culturally biased only adds insult to injury. We know all of this - yet, we continue to feed children tests, while in reality they need food, books, shelter, librarians (What happened to certified librarians? Imagine how many librarians we would have if we quit playing this game that states that these tests are somehow valuable to our instruction?), nurses, counselors, small class size...I could go on forever...

What's most unfortunate about Littleton's use of PARCC is that we know who will and will not benefit re: that elective. Status quo continues. And I think it's important to recognize that PARCC is not yet valid or reliable regardless the spin PARCC puts on that story. Corporate cash on the backs of children - and soon on the backs of teachers under SB191. I shudder to think of the teach to the test mantra that will become an even greater reality next year.

It would be wonderful if Littleton stepped up and refused to be a part of this propaganda.  Why not speak the truth to the parents? Considering the number of opt outs across the country it might be prudent to take a look at what's really going on and re-evaluate giving elective credits for PARCC. To be honest, it does not reflect well on Littleton High School. As principals, teachers and superintendents across the country speak up against this high stakes testing - which is truly educational malpractice, I'd love to know that my son's school was on the right side of history regarding this issue. Many thanks for all you do for Sam. He loves Littleton High School and all of his teachers. 

Thanks for letting me know and much appreciation for your honesty.


Peggy Robertson

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Regaining our Humanity and Co-optation 
Right now across the country there are students, teachers, parents, and community members rising up in an act of civil disobedience, stating their proclamation to reclaim public education by refusing to be servants to the corporations and the federal mandates which attempt to destroy our schools, and ultimately our democracy.  We are refusing the tests.

As we rise up and feel our own power - our power to restore dignity to our teaching profession, our power to give children what they all deserve, our power to be truthful, good and kind to our school communities, and shed our skin of the horrible mandates which have attempted to pit all of us against one another, we should recognize our ability to change the world,  and indeed embrace it, and one another. We can regain our humanity; it takes immense, hard, back-breaking work, but we can do it, and we must harness that power and success, and feel it. It feels good to be human and no longer a serf fulfilling mandates that harm our country. When you regain that feeling, take stock - pause - and create a space in your memory to bring that feeling back - we must not forget what it feels like to truly be human in a country that is founded on democratic values.

However, as we see success surround us, that doesn't mean our work is done. Our work right now is based on a solid foundation of civil disobedience. Our ability to refuse tests gives us such immense power that we literally may take down the common core national tests this year.  But there are other forces at play right now that could attempt to stop us by co-opting the Opt Out Movement.

What is co-optation?

Movements can also decline, if their organizations are highly dependent on centralized authority or on charismatic leadership, through co-optation. Co-optation occurs when movement leaders come to associate with authorities or movement targets more than with the social movement constituents. For example, a leader could be asked to work for the organization that is the target of a movement with offers of being able to change things from the inside. Instead they themselves become integrated into the organization and take on its values, rather than the social movement’s values. Leaders could also be paid off by authorities or target groups who ask them to redirect their activities in exchange. See more here.

Co-optation is occurring right now in multiple ways. 

For example, ECS recently came out with an "opt out" document. The Education Commission of the States created this document to let folks know the legalities around opt out. This document is now being shared in tweets, on FB, as well as in articles by educational groups and individuals.  This document allows folks to jump on the Opt Out Bandwagon, while defeating the main reason we have been successful as a social movement. We are successful because we recognize opt out as an act of civil disobedience. When folks share this document, while ignoring the social movement constituents - we are looking at a co-optation. Why share this document when local grassroots Opt Out movements are going strong across the country -  why not share information from the local and national grassroots groups versus ECS, who now gives the appearance of being an authority on opt out? This is a clear attempt to creep into our territory, co-opt it, and water down our message and our intent.

This is what ECS has to say about themselves:

What sets us apart
  • We don't take sides. We're not an advocacy organization.
  • We are non-partisan. By law, our chair alternates between Democratic and Republican governors every two years. We provide a platform for meaningful dialogue wherever you stand.
  • We cover the P-20 spectrum. We work with policymakers, researchers and practitioners at all levels of education, from pre-K to postsecondary and beyond.
  • We cross silos in governance. ECS is the only state-focused national organization to bring together governors, state legislators, K-12 and higher education department chiefs and other education leaders.
I would recommend that everyone check out their website. However, the above blurb may be enough to enlighten you. But you know what, just for kicks- would you check out their funders? Be sure you are sitting down when you do - head to page 21 and breathe deeply. 

So, as folks muddy the waters for opt out and share this document that is funded by those whose names my fingers are unable to type for fear of breaking my keyboard (which is why you have to go look at the above link yourself - I can't afford a new computer), we must understand clearly what is going on. And we cannot, I repeat, cannot, allow this social movement to be co-opted. If you see this ECS document anywhere - call it out for what it is - an attempt to co-opt a social movement that truly has the momentum to save our public schools, therefore our democracy.

As Tim Slekar, my dear friend, who is also a UOO founder, states:

Opt Out is not an anti-testing movement. It is a deliberate action! It is a movement to restore the civic mission of American public schools - providing a foundational education for all children in critical participatory democracy. It is a deliberate act of conscience - an act of civil disobedience that targets the coveted data produced by high stakes tests. Simply, it is a movement to end the dismantling of public schools.

We cannot allow opt out to be co-opted by groups who suddenly have the time and money to research all 50 states and report the legal mumbo jumbo while denying the public the true intent behind opt out - we don't need their legal mumbo jumbo in order to opt out. And, didn't we at UOO already do that research, for free? We have always viewed our opt out guides as a starting point, but ultimately opt out has always been an act of civil disobedience. The guides simply create a base, and then we move forward with action.

ECS is funded by those who wish to privatize - did you see the funders? Is your heart racing? 


This is the deal - we are not worried about opt out being legal or not - and we cannot allow such documents to water down the higher intent of opt out. We should also recognize that any such documents that suddenly appear in the midst of this revolution are appearing because we are gaining power and they know it. They didn't bother to research this before because we were not a threat. 

Now, we are. Feel your power as you regain your humanity. But again, there's more.

Let's take this a step further and consider another potential co-optation. Right now folks are working hard to pass opt out bills across the nation - I myself have assisted in such endeavors in the past. But, as I have been watching our progress this year I have reconsidered my stance on opt out bills. I'll admit, I was never a big fan of them as I felt that such bills were a bandaid, but now, I am gravely concerned about how these bills might impact our social movement. Number one - an opt out bill means it is no longer an act of civil disobedience; opt out becomes legal.  If opt out is legal, where is our power?  And if we push for an opt out bill, what do we sacrifice as a result? I fear that opt out bills could cause our power to diminish and create a sense of a small win, when in reality, it could be a monumental loss.

To get to the heart of the issue I must ask these questions:

Do we simply want to opt out of the tests OR do we want to demand that our schools are equitably funded, democratic, anti-racist, desegregated, filled with wrap around services, art, music, PE, counselors, nurses, librarians, libraries, while being developmentally appropriate as our schools prepare students to exercise compassion and critical decision making with civic virtue? What do we want? And why would we settle for less for our children? We must be clear about why we opt out.

Some will say to me, we must start somewhere and we must chip away at this, therefore an opt out bill is a win. I am not sure I agree. So, just food for thought. I know there is much controversy around this topic, but I had to put my thoughts out there in the context of a co-optation. 

I'm going to push a bit more as we think about co-optation. If suddenly everyone agrees with us and believes these tests are horrible, and states it loud and clear, what next? I mean, sheesh, everywhere we turn there is sympathy for our plight - bless their hearts they care....or do they? Do they really care about us regaining our humanity? Is that why Wired magazine says Standardized Tests Suck. But the Fix is More Data, Not Less. I mean...Wired loves Bill Gates, right? Opt out could become the cool thing to do.....let's think about how cool that might be, because we all agree these tests suck, right?

Well, if standardized testing sucks, and we need more data, not less, I'd say this is the time to usher in corporate formative testing and more online curriculum.  Heck - the more data the merrier - let's pile it on folks as we continue to increase the profits in the testing industry, where the increase has been a measly 57% in the last three years. We can do better than that!!!!  And if formative testing and curriculum are all tied to the report card grades, how will one opt out of it? Well, there's no need to! Opt out is gone! Because standardized testing sucks! We were so cool that they joined us and helped us take the common core national tests down. Thanks Bill Gates.

Beware of folks who are rallying around opt out suddenly and proclaiming that testing sucks without considering first : Why do they rally now? What is their intent? And what might they possible have to gain personally, or as a group or organization?

How might co-optation benefit them?  

Because let's face facts, those of us in this for the right reasons don't have the money to get an article in Wired Magazine, nor do we have the power to get folks in high places to retweet our work within one day - as was the case with the ECS report.

We cannot allow this social movement to be co-opted. Embrace opt out as an act of civil disobedience. 

So, again, find that space where you remember what it feels like to be human. I felt it a week ago, and then it disappeared, and I had to grasp to get it back. Find it, remember it, and hold on for dear life. We cannot allow this social movement to be co-opted if we hope to regain our humanity for ourselves and for the future of our country. Solidarity to all of you.