Off the Beaten Gadfly – the Best Education Blog Pieces You Never Read in 2014

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So you’re interested in education.

You’ve read your Diane Ravich. You peruse Peter Greene’s blog with your morning coffee. You have a Badass Teachers Association jersey on under your button down work shirt and tie.

But you need something more.

Well, friend, have I got a treat for you!

Please to enjoy Gadflyonthewallblog! This is the site where all the cool intellectuals go – the folks who want an edge to fight corporate school reform.

You probably already read Gadfly’s Top 10 Posts of 2014. That wouldn’t get by a discerning customer like you. But have you seen this – Gadfly Deep Tracks?

That’s right! These are the five posts selected by the author that maybe didn’t get the page views of the popular articles but are really worth your time.

Take a look. There’s some really good stuff here!

So for your continued edification, elucidation and just plain old enjoyment, I present to you the Top 5 Gadfly Rarities:


5) RAIDERS OF YOUR LOST PENSION

Views: 50  shutterstock_pickpocket
Publication: July 22

Description: Have you ever wished you could be a fly on the wall and listen to a secret meeting of corporate education reformers to hear what they REALLY think? Well, here’s your chance. I came across a conservative think tank paper that outlines ways to manipulate school boards to reduce teachers pension benefits. It’s all right here: Teach for America, Disaster Capitalism, Reducing School Budgets, etc. This is a smoking gun.

Fun Facts: My first post. It’s where I got the name for my blog. I thought this was really important, but not many people saw it. Here’s my attempt to change that.


4) FORGET CORPORATIONS… UNIONS REALLY ARE PEOPLE

Views: 152  Labor-Unions
Publication: Nov. 1

Description: Why do some people hate labor unions so much? Maybe it’s because they don’t understand them. In this article I outline the philosophy behind unions and debunk many common criticisms.

Fun Facts: Strong union folks loved this. Randi Weingarten was a fan. But it never gained the audience I feel it deserves. This is important. At best, it’s a way to convince reasonable people that unions are relevant and in fact indispensable to our economy. At worst, it’s at least a good tool to use to help explain your support of unions. It’s worth noting that this article is about unions in general – not any particular union.


3) THE MULTIPLE CHOICE MIND

Views: 356  Scanning of a human brain by X-rays
Publication: July 29

Description: What’s the problem with standardized tests? What do they do to growing minds? This article answers those questions and more. The basic thesis is that bubble tests are horrible ways to help create thinkers, but excellent for creating consumers.

Fun Facts: Standardized testing is central to all corporate education reform. But few people question its purpose. I think it’s important the public understand that none of this is about education. It’s about creating a permanent underclass just smart enough to be customers at Walmart but not smart enough to question the status quo.


2) A CURRICULUM OF COMPASSION

Views: 623  05_A1CP_t400
Publication: Nov. 8

Description: This is just a simple story about a poor, damaged student who entered my class needing so much more than just an education. I got her to smile. That’s it.

Fun Facts: This girl was in my class about a third of the time last year, and only two days this year. I hope she returns someday soon. It just breaks my heart. Wherever she is I send this article out to her as a virtual hug so my readers might love her as much as I do. Sometimes that’s more important than lesson plans, etc.


1) FRANZ KAFKA AND THE METAMORPHOSIS OF TEACHER EVALUATIONS  kafka-drawing-251x300

Views: 775
Publication: Aug. 30

Description: Value-Added Measures of teachers are absurd. So I mixed them up with the master of absurdity – Franz Kafka. Thrill as a teacher wakes up in class transformed into a giant insect about to be evaluated by a reformy principal.

Fun Facts: This is one of my own personal favorites. I think if more people actually saw it, they’d feel the same. I hope you enjoy it, too.


P.S. – I stole the idea for this Top 5 list from the excellent blogger Russ Walsh. He came up with the concept of writing a list of hidden gems – not a typical Top 10 list. His Russ on Reading is well worth your time.


P.S.S. – Diane Ravich gave this article a shout out on her blog.

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Top 10 Education Blog Posts (By Me) You Should Be Reading Right Now!

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Chill the champagne, call the babysitter and get out those funky illuminated 2015 party glasses! It’s New Year’s!

What a year it’s been!

Good ol’ 2014 was a rough one in many ways. National news was bloodier and more violent than usual.

But in response, social activism was on the rise. People were taking to the streets to protest in numbers not seen since the Civil Rights movement. Corporate Education Reform was on the wane. National teachers unions were calling for the resignation of Arne Duncan, our U.S. Secretary of Education. Pennsylvania lost its worst governor in my lifetime – Tom Corbett. And they’re making a new Star Wars movie!

But perhaps most important of all, Gadflyonthewallblog was born!

I never thought I’d be a teacher-blogger. But here I am.

I used to just read the amazing work of people like Jessie Ramey, Peter Green, Jersey Jazzman, Anthony Cody, Diane Ravich and so many more.

They gave me ideas, made me want to speak out. I’d start posting things on Facebook. A status update here, a meme there. Until one day I starting writing something that was so long, I couldn’t fool myself anymore.

I had written a blog post. There was nothing for it, then, but to start a blog.

I promised myself if I took that step I would publish at least once a week as long as people were reading what I wrote.

At first, I’d get 50-100 page views. That quickly turned to 1,000 – 2,000 and then sometimes much more.

Now, more than 40,000 hits later, with 5,785 followers, I’m flattered beyond words that people seem to like what I’ve been writing. I hope I’m helping add to the conversation about education, social justice and anything else I write about.

To celebrate my half year as a blogger – I started all this in July – I’ve compiled a Top 10 List of my posts.

I hate to use data to rank my students, but I found it very helpful here in selecting which articles to include.

Like all data, it has its limitations. For instance, many of these articles were reblogged or published in many different venues – the Washington Post, LA Progressive, Diane Ravich’s blog, Public School Shakedown, the Badass Teachers Association blog, etc. Since I don’t have access to their statistics, I couldn’t include them in my calculations. As a result, a post may be lower on my list but it actually received more views overall if you include everywhere it was published. I suspect this is true in some cases but can’t prove it.

What I ended up with – in ascending order – are the most viewed posts on my blog site.

I hope you’ll find something interesting you haven’t read before or perhaps an old favorite to read again. Or maybe you can just share this list with a friend to let them know how totally super awesome my blog is!

Anyway, here we go – the Top 10 Posts of 2014 from Gadflyonthewallblog:


10) LIFE OR DEATH PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Published: Aug. 2312184861-standard
Views: 1,022

Description: Before the first day with students, my school had an active shooter drill. This is how it went down.

Fun Fact: This piece was chosen for a Freshly Pressed award by WordPress.com. It has the most likes (145) and the most comments (31) of any article I have published so far.


9) FIGHT CORPORATE EDUCATION REFORM AND MEME IT

Published: Oct. 19 20-beach-sea-photography
Views: 1,053

Description: Just a bunch of education memes I made – most of them before I started the blog.

Fun Fact: This was meant to be a toss off – somewhere for me to keep track of my memes. It was unexpectedly popular and many of these memes keep popping up in unexpected places to this day.


8) TOXIC TESTING MY KINDERGARTEN TOT – OR DADDY DON’T PLAY THAT

Published: Dec. 15  76754238
Views: 1,071

Description: It’s a surreal experience for a teacher to attend a parent-teacher night for the first time as a parent. From a daddy’s eyes, there’s no choice but to question the value of standardized testing in Kindergarten.

Fun Fact: This was so personal it was very hard to write. I didn’t think anyone would care. I was wrong. It’s been published widely beyond my blog.


7) TRACKING, TESTING AND THE MYTH OF MERITOCRACY

Published: Sept. 7  sad student
Views: 1,316

Description: When one of my students earned outstanding grades in my class last year but was denied a place in this year’s advanced class because of low standardized test scores, I took action.

Fun Fact: This piece really angered people on Facebook for the injustice this student faced. I received a plethora of comments and messages from others who had gone through similar situations.


6) A MOMENT OF SILENCE FOR MICHAEL BROWN

Published: Nov. 26  140824-michael-brown-4p_98a645e4e00131864161045b0edd09e7
Views: 2,052

Description: My students were so depressed by the Grand Jury decision not to hold a trial for the police officer who killed Michael Brown, I had to address it in class.

Fun Fact: I received more hate mail for this article than any other. It was widely published – even in the Washington Post. I had to stop reading the comments after a while. Many thanks to those who don’t want my head for doing this.


5) THE REAL AMERICAN EDUCATION CRISIS

Published: Aug. 3  Arne Duncan
Views: 2,131

Description: I got so sick of hearing corporate education reformers go on TV and talk about our failing schools. Yes, they’re failing because of education policies that don’t work that we refuse to replace.

Fun Fact: This was something of a slow burn. At first, it didn’t receive much attention, but I was surprised to see that views continue to trickle in daily.


4) MERRY CHRISTMAS. WE’RE STEALING YOUR SCHOOLS

Published: Dec. 27  feb5a53244c611e48eca12313d21419c
Views: 2,949

Description: My continuing coverage and outrage at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s overreach to steal York City Schools away from taxpayers and give it to a failed charter school operator.

Fun Fact: My most recent post, widely published. I have been one of very few writers sounding the alarm for months. Finally, the nation seems to be paying attention.


3) THE BEST EVIDENCE AGAINST COMMON CORE

Published: Oct.4  Classroom-Management2
Views: 3,121

Description: Common Core is nonsense. To see that all you have to do is step in a classroom. Unfortunately that’s one thing the authors of CCSS have never done.

Fun Fact: I knew I had a winner from the second I posted this. It took off like a rocket. It has also been widely published and debated – one of the most popular pieces on the Badass Teachers Association blog. This is the only article I know of to inspire another blogger to write a complete piece attempting to debunk it.


2) CHECK YOUR WALLET – YOU TOO CAN BE AN EXPERT ON TEACHER TENURE

Published: Oct. 24  0714_wallet-open-money_485x340
Views: 6,070

Description: When Time Magazine promoted tech millionaires’ plan to improve education by attacking teachers, I exploded in fury. The result is this angry diatribe taking them to task point-by-point.

Fun Fact: Hugely, popular, widely published and almost universally praised by teachers and teachers groups. This lead to my involvement helping craft a response to the Time article published in the magazine along with my fellows at the Badass Teachers Association.


1) THE FINAL STRAW: CANCEL OUR LABOR CONTRACTS, WE CANCEL YOUR TESTS

Published: Oct. 11  the-straw-that-broke-the-ca1-300x273
Views: 10,910

Description: When Pennsylvania cancelled its contract with Philadelphia teachers, I saw the writing on the wall. If they can do that, teachers need to stop giving them the ammunition. They need to refuse to proctor the standardized tests being used to unjustly label our schools failures and justify the elimination of our collective bargaining rights.

Fun Fact: This is easily my most popular article yet. For a few weeks I was something of a folk hero. I saw my words memed by others and this piece appeared almost everywhere. Originally, I had debated publishing it at all thinking, “Who am I to tell teachers what they should do?” But my advice turned out to really hit a nerve. Teachers are dying to opt out of standardized testing. All it will take is one spark. One tiny spark.


Merry Christmas. We’re Stealing Your Schools.

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Merry Christmas. We’re stealing your schools.

That’s the message from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to York City School residents Friday.

Gimme’ that local control!

A judge ruled the district is now under direction of its Chief Recovery Officer David Meckley instead of its duly elected school board.

Why?

Meckley wanted the board to approve a plan to convert all district schools into charters run by Florida-based operator Charter Schools USA. This would make York the only all charter district in the entire state.

The agreement was made in secret by Meckley and details weren’t forthcoming before the board was asked to make a decision.

The board just couldn’t make up its mind fast enough. Members tabled it – they might even have refused it if given enough time to think!

So now Meckley will just make the conversion, himself. Dictatorship is so much easier than Democracy!

What else?

The school board reached an agreement with the teachers union that was simply too fair. How dare school directors agree to pay educators a fair wage when the recovery plan clearly indicated slave wages! Sure, district finances had improved, but… UNIONS!

The district could spend some of its $3 million surplus on teachers or engage in a possible $120 million contract with Charter Schools USA. Fiscal responsibility, people!

The district went back and rescinded its controversial teachers contract when the state initiated a petition to take over the district, but it was too late. School directors were acting like they were actually in control. We can’t have that. It might give people the idea that they are in charge! Hilarious!

How’d we get here?

Simple.

Back in 2012, Gov. Tom Corbett decided to slash public school budgets by $1 billion. Most of this came from the poorest schools since they relied more on state funding to keep operations going.

For York Schools that was an $8.4 million cut – over 15% of the district’s budget. To cope, the district cut the arts, student services, increased class sizes, etc. So it was labeled a “failure” simply because it couldn’t survive the funding cuts deemed necessary by the state.

Enter Meckley.

The state declared York City School District in “moderate financial recovery” in 2012 and appointed Meckley to create a financial recovery plan. That plan, adopted in summer 2013, laid out a path for internal reform but called for city schools to be turned into charters, run by an outside operator, if internal reform didn’t work out.

What’s that have to do with Friday’s ruling?

Plenty.

York County Judge Stephen Linebaugh tried to preserve the veneer of Democracy by defining the issue as narrowly as possible. He said it didn’t matter what the state would do once it had control of the district. He could only rule against a state takeover if it could be proven to be “arbitrary, capricious and wholly irrelevant to restoring the district to financial stability.”

In other words, if the district was in financial recovery and it agreed to a recovery plan (as it did), the only issue was whether it was following that plan – not whether the plan was any good or not, and not if the district had a right to refine that plan.

So apparently it is perfectly legal in Pennsylvania to beat someone up and demand a week’s worth of their lunch money – and if they don’t pay, you can sue them in court for welching on a contract!

Judge Linebaugh’s decision is expected to be appealed. This would cause an automatic stay to be put in place. But the state department of education would almost definitely try to have that stay lifted. So that issue will ultimately be up to the courts again.

Is the recovery plan any good?

Of course not!

If you’re problem is you don’t have enough funding, how do you improve that by giving over control of your district to someone whose goal is to make it turn a profit!?

They’ll reduce spending on services for children and increase administrative costs while earmarking a large portion of taxpayer money to boost the bottom line. That’s what for-profit charter operators do! It’s no secret!

Charter Schools USA – the operator waiting to take over York – is no exception.

A Florida League of Women Voters report found that a charter school operated by the company in the Sunshine State spent almost as much on fees and leases to itself and an affiliated company as it did on classroom instruction in 2011.

Another Charter Schools USA school in Indiana came under fire for keeping more than $6 million of “misappropriated” Indiana state funds for 1,800 students who never enrolled in its schools, according to an Indiana Public Media report.

CEO of Charter Schools USA Jonathan Hage has made himself filthy rich by doing the same thing to district-after-district throughout the country.

He even brags about it!

Take for instance his yacht. Yes, I said yacht. He brazenly named it “‘Fishin’ 4 Schools” after where he gets his cash.

To pay for it, he found a new revenue stream that’s just this side of legal. Charter Schools USA is the largest seller of charter school debt in the country. “It will sell $100 million worth of bonds this year, Hage says. … The bonds come with tax-exempt status because they are technically held by the nonprofit founding boards that oversee the schools.” Over a three-year period, the company made closer to $200 million.

So if you believe Meckley – the guy tasked with writing a recovery plan for York City Schools – bettering the district’s financial predicament means giving it to a company engaging in the same kinds of risky monetary practices that crashed our economy not even a decade ago. Run up debt, then sell it to others tax free! That’s not exactly a prescription for sound fiscal management.

Wait a minute. This takeover is being orchestrated by the Corbett administration. Isn’t he a lame duck? Won’t he be out of office in a few weeks? What about incoming Gov. Tom Wolf? Is there anything he can do about it?

Good questions.

Wolf has come out against turning York into an all-charter district. He even asked the Corbett administration to hold off until the governor elect takes office on Jan. 20.

While no comment was made to the press from Corbett, actions speak louder than words. Once again, he could give a crap about what’s best for schools.

Wolf has yet to comment on the takeover, himself, but his spokesman Jeff Sheridan had this to say:

“Gov.-elect Wolf knows that schools across Pennsylvania have been starved for resources over the last four years and our children are being put at a disadvantage. As a result, districts like York have been forced to the brink of financial collapse. Gov.-elect Wolf will make education his top priority by working to restore funding cuts and providing adequate resources so school districts can deliver on the promise of a high-quality public education for all Pennsylvanians.”

It’s unclear at this time exactly what Wolf will be able to do once he takes office if the takeover is complete.

Hopefully, the matter can stay tied up in the courts for a few weeks. Then Wolf may be able to direct the state to drop the matter and take a more logical course.

Cynics often say there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to educational matters. And history has done a lot to justify that position.

Gov. Wolf may have a chance to demonstrate exactly what that ideological difference is – if it exists at all – in coming weeks.

Right now, it’s all up to the speed and fairness of our courts.

In the meantime, Christmas cards in York, Pennsylvania, should contain the following resolution:

Goodnight and good luck.


This article has also been published in the LA Progressive and Badass Teachers Association Blog.

Dissent – The Most “Un-American” American Value

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Shut up!

Don’t you know that what you’ve just said has caused this horrible tragedy!?

It’s ironic that in a country born from dissent, the most popular message the powerful have for the powerless is “shut up.”

When two NYPD officers were ambushed and murdered by a madman on Saturday, the media was quick to point out his motive. Allegedly, the “execution style” shootings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenijan Lui were in retaliation for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown – unarmed black men killed by police.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio entered a press conference to speak about the murders, police turned their back on him. The reason? The mayor had been outspoken against a grand jury decision that Garner’s death didn’t need to be investigated with a full criminal trial of the officer who killed him.

Criticism was even worse in an internal department memo which accuses de Blasio of having his hands “literally dripping with our [NYPD’s] blood because of his actions and policies” and that the NYPD is now “a ‘wartime’ police department”  that will “act accordingly”.

It’s beyond ludicrous.

What does that even mean? Who exactly is the NYPD at war with – the people its officers swore to protect and serve?

But perhaps more troubling is the insinuation of guilt – that the mayor caused this tragedy because of his criticisms of police brutality.

Across the country, on social media, between friends and family the same pattern emerges. People complain the death of these police officers is because of the nationwide protests against a wave of police killings of unarmed black men.

If only people hadn’t spoken up, Ramos and Lui would still be alive!?

America has a history of crazy people doing all kinds of crazy things for just as many crazy reasons.

When Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber,” killed 3 people and injured 23 with home-made bombs because of his hatred of modern technology, no one blamed Apple computers.

When John Hinckley shot President Reagan to get the attention of Jodie Foster, no one blamed the Academy Award winning actress.

When Brenda Spencer fatally shot a principal and custodian and injured eight children and a police officer from her home across the street from a school because she “didn’t like Mondays”… Well, we still have Mondays.

But suddenly when a lunatic’s motives are politically expedient, they’re justified.

Millions of people all across the country have taken to the streets to protest a racist system of justice that doesn’t hold police accountable for killing unarmed black men. We could confront that system and change it, or we could try to shush those calling for reform.

What’s worse, protestors are shamed into silence. Before they can continue to air their grievances, they’re told they must stop and recognize the tragedy of Ramos and Lui’s death. Of course these murders were despicable! But what does that have to do with us?

Once again the powerless have to repeatedly condemn violence while the powerful have no such mandate put on them. Ex-Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson hasn’t offered any regret over his fatal shooting of Michael Brown. He went on national television and said he’d do the same thing again.

If people are worried about the negative image of police instilled by these protests, perhaps the cause isn’t the protests. Perhaps the cause is the negative actions of some police.

Before this story broke, the nation was reeling from the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture. The report details actions by CIA officials including torturing prisoners, lying to government officials and the media, harsher treatment than was previously disclosed, and the failure of the program to obtain accurate information.

Senator Dianne Feinstein made the rounds explaining the report to congress and the media. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer echoed many pundits when he asked her if the release of the report made America less safe.

What a stupid question!? The report didn’t make America less safe. The fact that America tortured people made us less safe!

But again we have attempts to squash dissent with appeals to shame and fear.

Why did you speak up, Sen. Feinstein? If you had remained silent about the heinous actions done in our name, we would remain safe and secure.

We used to hold freedom of speech as one of our most cherished values. It was a point of pride. Now it’s a dusty trophy on the mantle that we rarely practice in public. It’s just not worth the effort.

That’s a lesson North Korea learned this week. After hacking Sony Pictures and making threats against movie theaters that showed the Seth Rogan comedy “The Interview,” the film company pulled the picture from distribution. After all, the movie made fun of Kim Jong-un in a plot where the American government fictitiously planned to assassinate him with late night talk show hosts.

There was a time when the United States would not abide by such terrorism and threats.

That time has passed.

We not only bow down to foreign powers, we attempt the same kind of coercion for our own people.

How dare you say THAT! You are causing harm by speaking THIS WAY.

Imagine if we thought that way in 1776.

How dare you speak out against Great Britain! Sure, we have no say in our own government, but speaking out will only bring on more tragedy.

Dissent has truly become the most “Un-American” American value.


This article was also published in the LA Progressive and Badass Teachers Association Blog.

Toxic Testing My Kindergarten Tot – or Daddy Don’t Play That

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We were late.

At least it felt that way as my wife dragged me through elementary school hallways.

Racing past me were walls of multicolored palm print turkeys. Was it my imagination or did their googly eyes seem somewhat disapproving of my lateness and attire?

It’s my first parent-teacher night, I almost protested.

At least, it was my first as a parent and not as a teacher.

I was used to sitting on the other side of the table, notes organized in a neat little pile.



“Oh, you’re Jimmy’s father? So GLAAAD you could make it.”



But tonight I wasn’t Mr. Singer, teacher extraordinaire.

I was just a daddy. And Mommy was pulling my arm free from its socket trying to get us to the classroom on time.

There was just so much to see, frankly. I had never realized before how little of the school parents usually get to observe. At the district where I teach, I know my building like a second skin. But we don’t live where I work.

As parents, we’re invited into the auditorium, gymnasium, offices, and athletic fields. But we rarely get a peek at the inside of a classroom. You know? The place where our children spend most of their days!

“Oh my God! Is that her music lab? It looks amazing! Honey, take a look at all the instruments…”

But she just gave me the Eyes of Death. It was time to go.

We arrived at my daughter’s classroom exactly on time, thank you very much.

The teacher met us at the door wearing a Disney print dress beneath a wide smile. Hands shaken, greeting given, she immediately ushered us into seats.

They were miniature toddler seats – perfect for Kindergarten butts, a bit condensed for mine. But they held up heroically.

I already had met the teacher during an open house at the beginning of the year. She seemed an excellent educator and my little sweetheart loved her.

However, being in the parent’s seat listening to her presentation was both enlightening and bizarre.

It was surreal to sit there and listen to a report about this child’s academic life as if I had no idea what she was like. After all, I was her first teacher. I taught her to walk and use the potty. Even today she refuses to touch her homework unless I’m there to help.

Yes, she has homework almost every night. In Kindergarten, yes. After a full day in school, too.

When I was in her grade, my mother would usually walk me home at noon for a nice lunch and an afternoon of play. My daughter, on the other hand, eats in the cafeteria. For free! All the students get free lunches regardless of parental income. And then they return to class for a full afternoon of study.

She loves it, though. One of her favorite parts of the day is lunch. She might not tell me what story the teacher read to the class, but she’ll always tell me what she ate for lunch.

Spoiler: it’s usually chicken.

Anyway, her teacher was sitting across the table from us giving a full report on our daughter’s daily activities. It was mostly positive but being a teacher, myself, I could pick up on a few euphemisms.

“Oh! You’re daughter is very vocal!”

Translation: she won’t shut up.

“She is so independent!”

Read: defiant.

But I know my little girl. The teacher wasn’t telling me anything new.

I really enjoyed the personal stories. 

Apparently my little one sometimes uses her feminine whiles to get the boys to take out her pencil or open her book for her.

Little scamp!

I loved the story where my sweetheart darling child asked the teacher to take her home after school. Not home to my house, either. Home to the teacher’s house.

“Mommy and Daddy won’t mind,” she allegedly said.

We all had a good laugh about that one.

And then out came the standardized test scores.

That’s right. In Kindergarten!

I guess I should have expected it. Somewhere in my thick brain I knew standardized testing had trickled down all the way to Kindergarten. But it was so early in the year. I hadn’t expected it to happen yet. I had vague thoughts about opting her out of all that nonsense.

Many schools try to keep it a secret but your kids don’t have to participate in standardized testing. You can choose to opt them out under a religious exemption. All it takes usually is a visit to the principal and a request in writing.

But it was too late. My daughter’s scores were here already.

So I looked at them.

In my mind, my little girl is pretty advanced. After all, she’s literate. And, yes, I’m proud of that fact.

While most of her classmates are still fine-tuning the alphabet, my baby can already read a “Biscuit the Puppy” book from start to finish. And she can write, too. Just the other day she wrote me a note saying that she “LOVES DADDA.” The A’s looked a bit like H’s but I got the message.

However, when we looked at the test sheet, most of her scores were in the proficient range – a few advanced. The teacher said that unless my girl was reading chapter books at this age, she couldn’t score much above proficient.

That’s Common Core for you. They call it “rigor.” You’re at the head of the class and you’re only okay. This girl has had three years of preschool, we read with her everyday, practice writing, math, arts and crafts, etc. But the standardized test scores say, “Eh. You’re alright. Nothing special.”

It’s a good thing she’s too young to get these scores, herself. She’d be crushed.

Don’t mistake any of this for objectivity. I’m not a teacher here. I’m a daddy and daddy’s aren’t objective at all.

The teacher must have seen the look on my face. She conspiratorially let us in on her doubts about testing kids at this young age. She told us how she split up the testing period to fit the kids’ attention spans, and how it just sapped their energy and bored them, anyway.

I felt horrible. Here I am, Mr. Anti-Corporate Education Reform Blogger Guy, but my precious baby is losing time with blocks and “Clifford: the Big Red Dog” in favor of fill-in-the-bubble testing designed to make her prestigious achievements look small and mundane.

I should have known. While she was testing in her school, I was probably in my own classroom proctoring the middle school version of the same darn test. It’s one of many practice tests kids take before the real thing.

I wanted to ask the teacher to tell me more, to tell me if she supported opting my daughter out of future tests. But the look on her face didn’t invite further questions.

It’s a difficult situation. Most teachers hate the toxic testing regime. They know that multiple choice bubble tests are a terrible indicator of content knowledge – not to mention developmentally inappropriate for children my daughter’s age. But Wall Street hedge fund managers seeking to make a quick buck lobby politicians who put pressure on superintendents who order administrators to force teachers to do things under the guise of education that are really just about corporate profits. And if teachers in the workplace are too vocally against this scheme, they put a target on their backs.

I didn’t want to do that to my daughter’s teacher. I trust her. I know she’s a good teacher, I know my daughter loves her and I know where she’s coming from even without her vocalizing it.

Anyway, the meeting was quickly over. With a laugh and a smile, the teacher ushered us out the door so she could begin her next conference.

How many times have I been on that side of things – talking to parents about their kids? At least several hundred times. Almost definitely more.

But I left that meeting with a new sense of purpose.  I would opt my daughter out of her next standardized test. I would not allow the testing machine to feed on my precious child’s data.

I would listen to her teacher and my own misgivings.

Parent-teacher conferences were over. But it’s way past time to arrange a conference with the principal.

I grabbed my wife’s hand and pulled her after me.


This article has also been published on Public School Shakedown, LA Progressive and Badass Teachers Association blog.

An Exercise in Empathy

Eric Garner protests in Boston

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t…

I awoke abruptly from a troubled sleep and I literally could. Not. Breathe.

I stumbled out of bed and into the hall, banging into the walls, rushing to the bathroom commode.

I looked down into that porcelain abyss hoping and dreading the spasms that soon rocked my stomach.
It all came pouring out of me like I was a burst balloon.

After a brief eternity it was over.

My lungs sucked in air. My mind was awake.

I shivered realizing the video was still replaying in my head. The video of Eric Garner’s death.

I had watched that video with the same morbid curiosity as everyone else.

A heavyset black man choked to death by police as he screamed “I can’t breathe,” over and over again.

But now, merely a week after the police officer who killed Michael Brown was let free without so much as a criminal trial, the same thing happened to the cop who killed Eric Garner.

Death ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.

Officer using a banned choke hold.

No weapon, no resisting arrest.

All of it caught on video.

And No Trial.

That set it going again – the snuff film of Garner’s death might never stop playing itself over-and-over on the youtube screen behind my eye lids.

Why was this bothering me so much?

It was horrible, sure, but I’m a white man. This is unlikely to ever happen to me or mine.

When I see the police, the worst they’re liable to do to me is give me a ticket for speeding.

Black men – especially young black men – have it much worse. They’re 21 times more likely to be shot by police than their white contemporaries.

That’s frightening. Even if it probably wouldn’t happen to me.

The thing is – even though Eric Garner and I are very different, when I look at his picture, I see myself.

We’re both around the same age, same build, both have facial hair, both are fathers. There are more similarities than differences. The thing that separates us the most is the color of our skin.

When I look at him, I don’t see a danger to society. I see a guy who looked pretty friendly, a gentle giant – a guy whose house I’d have loved to visit for a cookout. I could see myself eating barbecued brisket on his porch sharing a joke and looking desperately for a napkin.

Many people don’t see that. When they look at his picture they see an OTHER, someone distinctly not like them, someone dangerous.

I don’t know really how you bridge that divide.

When I was a kid, I went to a very diverse public school. It taught me to get along with people who society labeled as different than me. It taught me that the label was a lie – we really weren’t all that dissimilar. I made lifelong friends of various races – people I probably would never have met otherwise.

The other day, I even got a strange instant message on Facebook from one of my black high school friends living out of state.

He said that he had been reading my blog and he was struck by how much I’d changed. He said I’d come a long way from the kid in high school who thought movies like “Boyz n the Hood” were exaggerated.

We talked for a while about it. I was surprised because I hadn’t noticed anything different at all, but he’s right.

I had clung to the notion that black grievances – though based in fact – were media contrivances to sell rap albums and movie tickets. I wanted to believe it so much. It was almost a mantra against news stories that seemed to indicate otherwise.

But at some point in the last few years I had given up that conceit, and I never even realized it.

I’m sure my job has a lot to do with it. I’m a public school teacher in a district much like the one I went to when I was growing up. My kids are mostly minorities.

You can’t go to work day in, day out and not come to empathize with the plight of people of color. You can’t see their miseries, fears, hopes and joys without sharing in them to some extent.

When Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were killed, their deaths hit me hard, too. I saw them as my students, my kids.

But Eric Garner wasn’t like any of them. He was like their father. He was like me.

Perhaps if our schools still weren’t so segregated, more people would see it. Perhaps more of us would recognize our common humanity.

Too often we live separate lives in separate worlds. We don’t live in the same neighborhoods. We don’t work in the same jobs. We pass each other by uneasily because we don’t know each other beyond the grisly accounts on the TV news and police blotter.

So, yeah, we need to fix our broken justice system. We need independent prosecutors, body cameras, police training and a host of other things. But more than anything, we need an introduction to each other. We need to be a part of each others lives. Reducing school segregation may be a place to start.

Maybe then we could all breathe easier.


This article has also been published on the LA Progressive and Badass Teachers Association blog.

Black Lives Matter – Except in Court

EricGarner-224x300

Let me ask you a question. When exactly would a grand jury indict a white police officer in the death of a black man?

No. Really. When?

Let’s look at some possible scenarios.

If the police shoot a black man who’s minding his own business holding a bb gun he got off the shelf at Walmart…
No indictment.

If the police are described by multiple witnesses as shooting a black man who’s in the process of surrendering with his hands up…
NO INDICTMENT.

If the police are caught on video choking a black man to death while he screams, “I can’t breathe”…
NO INDICTMENT!!!

NOT EVEN THEN! ON VIDEO!

I mean it. If not then, when WOULD a grand jury make this indictment? What would it take?

The way things are going it’s easy to imagine a black man being stabbed to death in a court of law right in front of the jury box, and those 12 angry men still wouldn’t be able to find enough evidence to bring it to trial!

That’s what we’re talking about here.

This has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. This has to do with there being enough evidence for a jury to decide that there are enough questions about the incident to make it worthy of a criminal trial.

We’re not talking about finding the police guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

We’re not talking about finding the police guilty at all.

We’re talking about the possibility that something might be wrong here.

In the top three examples above, grand juries didn’t even think there was an outside chance the police might have been in the wrong. And those are all real cases.

The fourth example is pure fantasy but look for it to hit the news real soon.

Some will say this has less to do with race and more to do with the police. To which I’d ask where are all the cases of this happening to white people?

Where’s the police officer killing a white man holding a child’s toy gun? Where’s the police killing a white man with his hands up? Where’s the video of the police choking a white man to death?

If you go looking, this is what you’ll find: white guys pointing guns – not toy guns, real weapons – at police and bystanders before being calmly talked down by police. You’ll find white men with hands in the air being taken peacefully into custody. You’ll find white guys choking on a cup of coffee the officer provided and being helpfully slapped on the back.

This isn’t to say all police officers are racist. Far from it.

This isn’t even really about the militarization of the police force. It’s a huge problem, but it’s not the central issue here.

What is at issue is a justice system that continually fails to seek justice.

For some reason in a court room, all human life is precious unless it is wrapped in a black skin. And police are innocent. Period.

The system has repeatedly failed. That’s why people are taking to the streets and in some cases looting and rioting.

If you can’t trust the police and the justice system, what’s the point of obeying the law? You’re a target – fair game – whether you’re law abiding or not. Might as well tip those scales back a bit in your favor.

I’m not saying this reaction is right, but it’s certainly comprehensible.

When people become citizens they enter into an unspoken contract with society. I’ll obey the laws if you’ll treat me fairly. We’re letting down our side of the bargain.

You’ve probably seen the hashtag #nojusticenopeace. That’s not a prescription. It’s a description of reality.

We MUST restore our courts to working order. Justice must be blind. Fair. Impartial.

If not, we will have no society at all.

Only questions about what went wrong.


This article has also been published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.