If One More White Person Asks Me to Condemn the Baltimore Riots…

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It started as soon as I got to work.

“Bet you’re glad the history club isn’t going to Baltimore this year!”

A comment between two social studies teachers. Nudge. Nudge.

I moved on to my morning duty and a science teacher asked me, “How about all that looting and rioting in Baltimore?”

Smirk. Chuckle. Conspiratorial tone.

Then at lunch, they were talking about a “hilarious” video where a black mother was yelling and hitting her son for being part of the riots.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Am I the only white person who doesn’t need reassured?

Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re asking for confirmation, comfort, soothing.

It’s not white people’s fault. It’s those uppity… uh… black people.

Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died under mysterious circumstances two weeks ago in Baltimore police custody.

His spine was allegedly “80% severed” at his neck. He had three fractured vertebrae, and his larynx was injured.

Police say he was arrested without any violence. Bystanders say he was beaten with batons. A cell phone video shows him being dragged into custody while in visible agony.

And what did he do to attract police attention? He met an officer’s eyes and then ran. After tackling him to the ground, the police found a knife on him.

And now he’s dead.

It doesn’t take much to see why people are upset – especially people of color.

Yet another police encounter that leaves an African American dead with no provocation.

Peaceful protests took place on Saturday and no one paid much attention. Some protestors turned violent by Sunday and the story suddenly became those crazy black folks are destroying their own communities again.

And every white face I see wants me to join in the condemnation.

It’s the black people’s fault. They keep acting out.

What does this solve? What does it prove?

PLEASE! Do not assume that a lack of melanin in my cheeks means a lack of common sense.

Freddie Gray’s death is not an “excuse” to riot. No one sits around all day checking the headlines for a reason to go wild and set cars on fire. That kind of violence doesn’t just turn on at the flip of a switch.

It’s a slow burn in the pit of your belly, quietly consuming your insides until there’s no recourse left that makes sense. All you can do is scream and go crazy for a while.

Everyone’s done it. After a particularly bad day, the garbage disposal won’t open, so you kick it. You get some terrible news and scream at the neighbor’s dog.

You get it out. You take it out – usually on someone or something that doesn’t deserve it. Often hilariously so. The garbage disposal had nothing to do with my bad day. The neighbor’s dog didn’t cause my bad news.

It’s called being human. Looting and rioting are a more extreme version of the same thing. They don’t solve anything. But how dare you say you don’t understand!

Black people – especially men – are being murdered, and our justice system seems unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

Maybe there’s some strange extenuating circumstance that exonerates police in Gray’s death. But I doubt it. Even if they had nothing to do with his injuries, they certainly should have gotten him medical attention immediately after the arrest.

They are culpable. They were wrong.

Why can’t white people admit it?

We’re so afraid if we acknowledge white folks have done any wrong to black folks, it will start some kind of moral accountancy. Once we start, we’ll have to go through the racial debt point-by-point.

Freddie Gray will lead to Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. That will lead to unfair incarceration rates and sentencing. That will lead to Jim Crow laws. And before you know it, we’ll be talking about S-L-A-V-E-R-Y.

Can’t have that! It might make white people feel bad.

Some of us already feel bad. We feel bad that our black brothers and sisters have to keep putting up with defensive, frightened white people.

I am not afraid of black people. They are my friends, my neighbors, my students.

I am not afraid of exposing grievances. The truth deserves to be told.

I love black people. I love justice. And I want it for all of us.


NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive and the Badass Teachers Association blog.

Clash of the Titans – Unionism at the Network for Public Education

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It was billed as the fight of the century.

Or at very least – the weekend.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia vs. Randi Weingarten.

National Education Association vs. American Federation of Teachers.

Union president vs. union president.

All moderated by education historian Diane Ravich.

“Oh snap!” cried six hundred voices in tandem at the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago.

“It’s goin’ down!”

No soft pitches coming from Diane, either. These were going to be tough questions. No politicking. Only candid truth.

And the interview actually seemed to live up to its hype in one shinning moment.

Will you both commit to no longer taking any money from the Gates, Broad and Walton Foundations?

Ravich’s question hung in the air a second before the crowd erupted into a standing ovation.

We cheered so loudly at the question, we didn’t hear the answers – two quick short yeses.

When it quieted down somewhat, Lily nodded and Randi cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted “YES!”

At the time, I was overjoyed. But in retrospect something keeps bugging me.

That wasn’t as candid and organic as it appeared.

There’s no way the heads of the two largest labor unions in the country could commit to something like that off the cuff. They were expecting that question and they had already agreed in private on the answer.

Does it matter?

Maybe not. If the NEA and AFT actually follow through with this promise, who cares if the presentation was staged?

But there were other cracks in the facade along the way.

It started well enough. Both women said some really supportive things about teachers and our unions.

ROUND 1: LOVEFEST

Randi:

-Teachers are first responders to poverty. Never say I’m just a teacher. (NOTE: activist parent Rosemary Vega says she used almost the exact same words to Randi in a private conversation.)

-All middle class workers have to realize we’re all in it together.

-The other side lives in an evidence free zone. We need to keep pushing the truth.

Lily:

-Privatizers have to get people to distrust teachers. This is hard because most people naturally trust our profession.

-It’s strange that some celebrities want to make the world a better place by making it easier to fire more teachers.

-People who say teachers go into this profession for a cushy job are “idiots.” (Randi then countered that these folks are “morons.”)

-Teachers need tenure so they won’t be fired for helping kids.

-We talk about the progress gap – what about the resource gap?

-They say if kids had better teachers, they wouldn’t need resources!

-There are three pillars of corporate school reform:
1) privatize
2) standardize
3) delegitimize (teachers)

RESULT: Lily takes it. She came off more eloquent and genuine than Randi who seemed a bit strident and defensive. Judging by the mediocre applause and even outright hissing Randi earned from the audience, New York teachers may still blame her for Gov. Cuomo who she supported in the last election.

ROUND 2: STANDARDIZED TESTING

Randi:

-We need to get rid of high stakes tests. We need tests that are diagnostic. I took tests when I was a child, but they were about ME – not my teacher.

-We wanted three things from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) rewrite – no federalization of teacher evaluations, school closings or Common Core.

Lily:

-If we have standardized testing at all – and I’m not sure we should – we should use them for general trends. Not to fire teachers, close schools, etc.

-The NEA is against annual testing in the ESEA rewrite. Instead we want informational grade span testing at the state level. That means testing reading and math once in elementary school, once in the middle school and once in the high school.

-Lawmakers say you need to test kids every year. They think we need the data. However, the NEA told them that we don’t test that much even now! We only test kids in grades 3-8 every year. We test high school students only once. So we already have grade span testing in the high school. If that’s working, why not do the same in the elementary and middle schools?

RESULT: Yuck and yuck. Are these really the same rabble rousers from Round 1? They both agree on grade span testing. Yes, it’s clearly better than annual testing but it leaves so many unanswered questions:

1) If we had grade span testing, would our test-obsessed country really only test once at each academic level? Right now, standardized tests aren’t required in Kindergarten, first or second grade – yet in most schools WE HAVE THEM! To paraphrase Lily – we already have literally annual testing through 8th grade! Prove to me that grade span testing won’t be that!

2) How can you be sure grade span testing will actually remove high stakes? Just because you say something doesn’t have high stakes doesn’t mean it isn’t actually de facto high stakes. I can call a cat a “dog,” but it still won’t use the litter box.

3) Do we really need any of this “demographic”, “purely informational,” nothing-to-see-here-folks data? Do we? Why? To prove kids are learning? We give them grades for that. To prove kids are getting the proper resources? We do audits for that.

So let’s call this one a sloppy and ugly draw with few punches thrown.

ROUND 3: COMMON CORE

Randi: Standardized testing is ruining the potential of the Common Core. (Ravich responded that it is an outrage that so few kids pass Common Core tests who passed the tests they replaced.)

Lily: Many Common Core standards can’t be evaluated on standardized tests. They ignore the best parts. Organize a project, give an opinion, do a multi-media presentation. You can’t assess that with a multiple choice fill-in-the-bubble test.

RESULT: They agree again. The rank and file hate Common Core. The majority of teachers are against it or uncertain, but our largest union leaders think it’s just swell. It’s so gosh darn great, but toxic testing is ruining it. Are you freaking kidding me!? Why are the leaders of our biggest unions – who are supposed to represent us – defending standards that were not developed by educators, are developmentally inappropriate and have never been proven to work!?

Standardized tests are bad, but standardized curriculum is good!?

Once again light starts to shine through the cracks here. Somewhere, sometime ago, a decision was reached between these two ladies and parties unknown to make a compromise. Save Common Core by lightly ribbing standardized tests. Champion a slight decrease in testing (that may not actually reduce testing at all) in exchange for saving standardized curriculum.

I’m sorry. I’m calling the fight. No winners here.

BUT WAIT!

OFF THE TOP ROPES COMES RANK AND FILE UNIONISTS FROM THE BREAKOUT SESSION ON SOCIAL JUSTICE UNIONISM!

Michelle Gunderson chaired an incredible session about the need to transform our labor unions around the issues of social justice.

Remarks included:

-Get Up! Get down! Chicago is a union town!

-After Gov. Walker, there weren’t supposed to be any unions. But WE’RE STILL HERE!

Rosemary Vega: true leaders don’t make more followers. They make more leaders.

-Everyone is a worker. Everyone deserves rights – whether you’re in a union or not.

-Fighting for social justice is key to building strong unions.

-Do you want a service union or an activist one? Associations shouldn’t just be about salary and benefits. They need to be about Justice.

-People of color used to be banned from joining unions. Now they’re leaders.

-You’d never know how much our unions had to fight for the rights we have today. We don’t pass that on to the next generation. We should.

Michelle: Union members aren’t friends. They’re brothers and sisters.

RESULT: Randi and Lily are teetering on their feet! They’re almost down! Somehow they’re still standing! How can they still be standing!?

OH! IS THAT KAREN LEWIS ENTERING THE RING!? NO WAY!

Diane had a brief talk with the Chicago Teachers Union president to end the entire NPE conference. Karen didn’t say anything revolutionary.

In fact, she deflected any kind of praise back to someone else. When Diane said Karen was her hero, Karen said she felt the same way about Diane. When Diane asked her about being attacked in the media, Karen thanked the Badass Teachers Association for coming to her aide on Twitter.

She was poise, finesse and grace.

The strength she demonstrated! The power! The integrity!

RESULT: Boom! It’s all over! It’s all over! Ring the bell! Ring the Bell!

Unions still have an important place in our fight as teachers. But it’s not top down. Unions work best when they’re bottom up – just like any Democracy.

Lily and Randi seem like very nice ladies. In many ways they DO stand up for teachers and students. But there is more to their stories. They have seats at the table in the smoke filled rooms where decisions are made at the highest level about how our country will be lead. And to keep those seats, they have to make compromises. They have to sell these compromises to you and me as if these were their own ideas. They want to convince us that these are really OUR ideas.

But it’s not true. It’s showmanship.

We have to be smart enough to see through it and call them out on the bullshit when it comes.

Unions have always been about people power – and what powerful people we have on our side!

The audience at NPE was full of these courageous, big hearted activists and organizers. I’m so honored to have been included in this tremendous event.

Power to the people!


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NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

Here Comes Everyone – a Day of Inspiration and Advocacy at the Network for Public Education Conference

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Let me ask you a hypothetical question:

If you could have dinner with any five people in the world, who would they be?

You don’t have to ask me that question. I not only had dinner with them, I spent the whole freaking day with them at the Network for Public Education Conference!

And there were more like 500 of those folks!

Imagine everyone you’ve ever read about in the resistance to corporate education reform.

Imagine them all in one place, standing in line all around you waiting to select a Danish.

Yeah. That was breakfast.

I invited the amazing Pennsylvania blogger Russ Walsh to my table to chat over bagels and coffee.

I told him that I’d been so inspired by his criticism of the Dibels test that I refused to allow my own daughter to take it. He laughed and said it was a mighty responsibility.

We hung out. No big deal.

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And then I saw Peter Greene of the Curmudgucation blog. We sat together during a break out session and talked shop. He told me how it was frustrating sometimes to feed the beast – to keep writing articles after one of yours had made an impression. I laughed because I knew exactly what he was talking about.

We’re best friends now.

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I was walking down a hallway and there was Diane Ravich right behind me.

Yes! Right. Behind. Me.

I tried to collect myself before walking up to her.

Don’t blow this, Singer! I warned myself, but I kinda’ did anyway.

I introduced myself and shook her hand. She knew exactly who I was and said, “I love your blog.”

SIGH.

She loves my blog.

But then I opened my mouth to respond, and all that came out were unrelated syllables. Something like, “blllurgghh.”

But there were more people waiting to talk to her. She probably didn’t notice. Right?

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And really I could go on like this for days.

However, it wasn’t just the opportunity to meet and talk with education heroes. The breakout sessions were amazing:

The Opening Symposium

Brother Jitu Brown of NPE and Tanasia Brown from the Newark Student Union were inspiration personified. Though she’s only a student, Tanasia lead the assembly like a seasoned preacher on Sunday. And Jitu’s words just made you want to rush out of those doors and renew the fight.

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Debunking Myths:

It may not be the zombie apocalypse yet, but some decaying half-dead arguments continue to shamble across the scene. They’ve been disproven repeatedly but some people refused to accept it. Media Matters Hilary Tone and People for the American Way’s Diallo Brooks gave some excellent tips for putting these zombie arguments to rest:

Six Tips For Debunking Myths

1) Familiarize facts – minimize falsity. Start with the truth, not what’s wrong.

2) People believe what they hear. Warn them about it. “You’ll probably hear the Koch Bros. say…”

3) Don’t just debunk – retell. After dispelling a lie, make sure to give a new narrative to replace it.

4) Use graphics. People love visuals.

5) Make things easy to understand. Don’t use jargon. Expect no prior knowledge.

6) Messengers matter. Credible and unexpected sources can be very convincing. When someone you’d expect to disagree with you actually agrees, it makes people think, “Even THIS guy gets it.”

Other tidbits include:

-Call out false progressives. If they don’t understand the real problems, they can’t come up with real solutions.

-The media only talks about education policy with actual education experts 9% of the time.

 

America’s Suicidal Quest for Educational Excellence:

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Author Yong Zhao brought down the house with an amazing and hilarious presentation. He argued that America’s corporate educational reform movement is destroying the very things about our education system that makes it great.

The goal of increased standardized test scores is ill conceived. Countries with high test scores produce graduates who are less creative and interested in education. Why is this something we want to emulate?

Other tidbits:

-Standardization isn’t a reform. China’s been doing it since 600 AD.

-Our schools aren’t getting worse on standardized tests. They’ve always been bad at them. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

-We’re working to weed out and select kids. If children do what some few people want, they’re gifted. If not, they’re special ed. But does that mean our requirements are any good?

-Societies aren’t murdered. They commit suicide. Focusing on standardization instead of creativity and difference, is suicide. We’re destroying our most cherished virtues.

-One of the amazing things about US education is we accept everyone for 12 years. This doesn’t happen everywhere in the world.

-If you spend 10,000 hours working at something you’re already good at, you’ll become great. If you force kids to spend that amount of time on something they don’t like, they’ll only become mediocre.

-WARNING: Common Core may increase standardized test scores but it will make your child hate reading for life.

-We do not instill creativity in our students better than Asian systems. We just kill it less successfully.

-Standardization is preparing kids for jobs being replaced by machines and outsourced. We should not compete with China. We should create new opportunities.

-Do not fit your kids in to the future. Let them create it.

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And so much more!

This has easily been one of the best days of my life. Top 10 for sure.

And there’s still a half day to look forward to tomorrow.

So many burning questions:

-Which education luminary will I eat breakfast with in the morning?

-Will my BFFs Walsh and Greene sign my program book?

-Will I get a chance to express a meaningful sentence to Diane?

Find out in our next exciting episode!

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NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog and mentioned on Diane Ravich’s site.

The Resistance is Real – They’re All Here at the Network for Public Education Conference!

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An old adage says, “The most radical thing we can do is introduce people to one another.”

If that’s true, then the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago may be the most radical gathering in the history of the world!

Everywhere you turn are familiar faces that belong to people you’ve never actually met.

I wasn’t checked-in to the hotel for more than a minute before I ran smack into a colony of Badass Teachers.

Melissa Tomlinson, Marla Kilfoyle, Larry Proffitt, Kelly Ann Braun, Kristin Vogel, Karen Wolfe, Denisha Jones, Terry Kalb and so many more.

I’m “friends” with all of them on Facebook. Just like I’m “friends” with Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and George Takei!

But these are at least people with whom I’ve actually engaged. We’re all in the Badass Teachers Association – many of us on the leadership team.

We plan actions, incite twitter storms, write articles and all around raise Hell about the standardization and privatization of public education.

But meet them in person!? No. I’ve never done that… until today.

And is that abnormally tall man greeting folks in the lobby Anthony Cody? Yes, it is. The most prominent education blogger in the country is helping sell souvenir t-shirts!

And is that Melissa Katz – the 19-year-old teaching student setting the field aflame with her youthful activism!? Yep!

It’s like some science fiction story where the Internet came alive and started spitting out virtual people into the hotel lobby.

At first, I was simply speechless. I could hug, nod and take pictures, but that was about it.

But as the magic spell refused to fade away, I gradually accepted the reality of the situation.

These weren’t phantoms. These are real people.

And so – we began to talk.

I’ve spent hours messaging these individuals on-line. We’ve done much to steer the course of the resistance to corporate education reform. But nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

And the door kept popping open with more people I’d never even known existed who felt the same way I do about schools and learning.

In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve met a cloud of BATS from all over the country. We’ve talked about:

-The way Pearson standardization is seeping into college level teacher education courses. The complaint has always been that standardized tests don’t prepare students for college. And instead of fixing the tests, we’re dumbing down the universities!

-How activists in some states have made progress holding charter schools accountable and in others activists have made progress holding cyber schools accountable. But rarely do we seem able to do BOTH. It’s like a bureau in a “Three Stooges” episode. When you get one closed, the other pops opens wider.

-The way parents feel about their own children isn’t that much different than the way teachers feel about their students. However, it’s very difficult for each group to acknowledge they’re on the same side. How powerful we could be if we worked together!

-How education blogging is so much more authentic and free to tell truth to power than print or television journalism. Big money controls the media, but it can’t control everyday folks who feel compelled to write articles and publish them on-line.

And so much more!

Not a single conference has started, yet my brain is swimming with ideas. There are so many people I want to talk with and so many subjects I want to discuss!

In any case, it will probably be a long day tomorrow with some really tough choices to make. There are so many incredible presenters giving talks on so many important subjects – many at dueling times.

I feel energized and part of a growing community of people dedicated to righting the course of public education. The profiteers and privatizers have a war chest loaded with cash on their side.

But we’ve got people. Real people.

I’ll side with people any day.

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(Watch this site for further updates throughout the weekend if I can find a spare moment.)

NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog and was mentioned in a post on Diane Ravich’s blog.

This Article May Be Illegal – Lifting the Veil of Silence on Standardized Testing

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Warning!

What you are about to read may be a criminal act.

I may have broken the law by putting this information out there.

Edward Snowden leaked data about civilian surveillance. Chelsea Manning released top secret military documents.

And me? I’m leaking legal threats and intimidation students and teachers are subject to during standardized testing.

Not exactly a federal crime is it?

No. I’m asking. Is it?

Because teachers are being fired and jailed. Students are being threatened with litigation.

All because they talked about standardized tests.

The US government mandates public school children be subjected to standardized assessments in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Most schools test much more than that – even as early as kindergarten.

And since all of these assessments are purchased from private corporations, the testing material is ideological property. The students taking these exams – regardless of age – are no longer treated as children. They are clients entering into a contract.

At the start of these tests, students are warned of the legal consequences of violating the terms of this agreement.

In particular, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests require students to read the following warning on the first day of the assessment:

DO NOT PHOTOGRAPH, COPY OR REPRODUCE MATERIALS FROM THIS ASSESSMENT IN ANY MANNER. All material contained in this assessment is secure and copyrighted material owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Copying of material in any manner, including the taking of a photograph, is a violation of the federal Copyright Act. Penalties for violations of the Copyright Act may include the cost of replacing the compromised test item(s) or a fine of no less than $750 up to $30,000 for a single violation. 17 U.S.C. $ 101 et seq

So the first act of testing is a threat of legal consequences and possible fines.

There are no such warnings on my own teacher-created tests. Sure I don’t want students to cheat, but I don’t threaten to take them to court if they do.

The school has a plagiarism policy in place – as almost every public school does – which was created and approved by the local school board and administration. The first infraction merits a warning. The second one results in a zero on the assignment, and so on.

Moreover, this is something we go over once at the beginning of the year. We do not reiterate it with every test. It would be counterproductive to remind students of the dire consequences of misbehavior right before you’re asking them to perform at their peak ability.


Okay, Brady! Go out there and win us a football game! By the way, if you deflate that football, you will spend the rest of your life in jail. Go get ‘em!

But that’s not all.

In Pennsylvania, we also force kids to abide by a specific code of conduct for test takers. They must enter a quasi-legal relationship before they are even permitted to begin the tests we’re forcing them to take.

Much of this code is common sense. Get a good night’s sleep. Fill in bubbles completely using a number two pencil.

But some of it is deeply disturbing.

For example, students are told to “report any suspected cheating to your teacher or principal.”

They have to agree to be an informer or snitch to a government agency. My students aren’t old enough to vote or even drive a car, but they are directed to collaborate with the government against their classmates.

In addition, they are told NOT to:

-talk with others about questions on the test during or after the test.

-take notes about the test to share with others.

Sure kids shouldn’t talk about the test with classmates DURING the testing session. Obviously! But why can’t they discuss it after the test is over!?

Kids aren’t allowed to say to their friends, “Hey! Did you get the essay question about ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’?”

They aren’t allowed to discuss how difficult it was or compare how each of them answered the questions?

These are children. If you think they aren’t talking, then you just don’t know kids. You don’t know people!

And why shouldn’t they talk about it? They just shared a stressful, common experience. Who wouldn’t want to compare it to what others went through so as to decide how your experience rates? Did you answer the questions well or not? Did you get a more difficult question than others? Did the thing that struck you as odd also hit others the same way?

Personally, I do not consider talking like this to be cheating. It’s just human nature.

But we force kids into a legalistic vow they won’t do it. On the test, we make them fill in a bubble next to the following statement:

By marking this bubble I verify that I understand the “Code of Conduct for Test Takers” that my Test Administrator went over with me.

As a test administrator, I am not allowed to move on until all students have filled in that bubble. I wonder what would happen if one of them refused.

Technically, we aren’t making them promise TO ABIDE by the code of test takers. Perhaps we lack that legal authority. We are, however, making them swear they understand it. Thus we remove ignorance as an excuse for not following it.

But there is a veiled threat here. We imply that not following this code will have harsh legal consequences.

And I’m not sure it should.

Kids certainly ignore it. They almost definitely discuss the exam with their peers after the testing session. But we’ve given them a sense of guilt, fear and anxiety just for being normal human beings.

That’s wrong.

Teachers are forced to do it, too.

Just as there is a code for test takers, there is a code for test proctors.

I have to sign that I understand the “Ethical Standards of Test Administration.” Again, much of this is common sense, but it includes such statements as:

DO NOT:

-Discuss, disseminate or otherwise reveal contents of the test to anyone.

-Assist in, direct, aid, counsel, encourage, or fail to report any of the actions prohibited in this section.

So even teachers technically are not allowed to discuss the test and should report students or colleagues seen doing so.

If I walk into the faculty room, and one of my co-workers describes a question on the test and asks my opinion, I’m supposed to report this person to the authorities.

What kind of Orwellian nightmare are we living in?

If we see a question that is badly worded, misleading, has no correct answer, contains misspelled words – anything out of the ordinary – we’re supposed to remain silent. In fact, we’re not supposed to read anything on the test other than the instructions.

I can’t talk about it to my colleagues, my principal, my spouse, my priest – ANYONE.

What are the consequences of breaking this code?

Ask those teachers in Atlanta who were convicted of cheating. Obviously they did more than just talk about the test and they deserve to be punished. But there is a specific threat to teachers if they violate this code.

According to the “Pennsylvania System of School Assessment Directions for Administration Manuel”:

Those individuals who divulge test questions, falsify student scores, or compromise the integrity of the state assessment system in any manner will be subject to professional disciplinary action under the Professional Educator Discipline Act, 24 P.S. $ 2070. 1a et seq, including a private reprimand, a public reprimand, a suspension of their teaching certificate(s), a revocation of their teaching certificate(s), and/or a suspension or prohibition from being employed by a charter school. [emphasis added]

So teachers may lose our certifications, livelihoods, etc. Heck! We could be charged with racketeering like the Gambino Family and face up to 20 years in jail!

And all just for talking!

I thought speech was protected by law. Doesn’t the First Amendment protect me from prosecution for speaking except under extreme and unusual circumstances?

If my colleagues and I were to discuss the appropriateness of certain test questions, would that really be such a bad thing? If we compared the questions being asked with how we prepared our students for the test, wouldn’t that – in fact – be the responsible thing to do?

I never give my students one of my own teacher-created tests without knowing exactly what’s on it. I’ve read the test from top to bottom. Heck! I made it!

One shouldn’t feel like a whistle-blower for talking about a standardized test. Discussing the appropriateness of specific test questions does not make me Julian Assange.

Therefore, I must ask an important question of you, dear reader: Did I violate these rules by writing this very article? Is the piece you are reading right now illegal?

I contend that it isn’t. The code of conduct for both test takers and test administrators is freely available on-line from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The legal threat at the beginning of the test is reproduced almost word-for-word in a sample letter the state Department of Education suggests schools send to parents before testing begins.

I haven’t included anything here that is not freely available on the Internet or elsewhere.

But the need I feel to stop and answer this question is kind of scary.

There is a veil of secrecy over these tests and the way they are administered. And it’s no accident. The testing companies don’t want all of this to become public knowledge. They don’t want the quality or inferiority of the actual exams to be known.

And our state and federal governments are protecting them. From whom? Our teachers, parents, and students.

Shouldn’t our legislators be looking out for our rights and not just those of private contractors who were hired to provide a service? Obviously we have to allow test manufacturers the freedom to do their jobs – but some of this seems to go beyond that requirement.

We’re being silenced and intimidated to protect an industry that is of dubious quality and obscene profitability.

Every day more people are asking questions about the validity of standardized testing. Everything from the frequency of the tests to the value of cut scores has been the subject of criticism. Thousands of parents are refusing to let their children take these assessments at all.

Isn’t it time to throw back the Iron Curtain of standardization and look at these tests in the cleansing light of day? Isn’t it time to evaluate this process as well as the product? Do we really want to support a system that encourages silence and snitching from our children and educators?

Isn’t it time to move beyond standardization and toward a system of teacher-created curriculum and testing instead of relying on capitalist profiteers.

Big Corporation is watching.

Let’s poke him in the eye.


NOTE: This article also has appeared on Diane Ravich’s blog, Commondreams.org and the Badass Teachers Association blog.

WANTED: Progressive Candidate With the Guts to Stand Up For Public Education

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Wanted:

Progressive presidential candidate.

MUST SUPPORT PUBLIC EDUCATION.

No. Not just the words. Not as a soundbite. Must actually support policies that help public schools – not tear them apart and sell them away piece-by-piece while you smile and brag about how much you support education.

This means you must:

1) Repudiate and Vow to Repeal Common Core State Standards

-Must know how they were created by unqualified partisans with little input from real educators.

-Cash strapped states were coerced into accepting them – in many cases even before they were done being written – as a condition for increased funding.

-They have never been proven to help kids learn and are in fact a massive social experiment at taxpayers’ expense and students’ peril.

-They are a huge payday for the testing and test prep industry who provide the new standardized assessments and new textbooks necessary for their implementation.

-They are developmentally inappropriate, demanding all students to learn at the same rate and at a time frame that is inconsistent with the way children cognitively develop.

2) End Annual Standardized Testing

-Must promise to end policies forcing public schools to give standardized tests in reading and math to all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Ideally, standardized tests should be completely eliminated.

-Must understand that standardized tests are poor assessments that have never been proven to measure academic achievement. However, they do an excellent job of demonstrating a student’s parental income – rich kids do well, poor kids less so.

-Must realize these tests are nothing but a money-maker for private industry and are used as an excuse to close under-funded schools predominantly serving children of color.

MUST REPUDIATE THE MEDIA NARRATIVE OF FAILING SCHOOLS, which is not supported by facts and merely the propaganda of an industry feeding off of our public taxes and children’s misery.

3) Stop the Expansion of Charter Schools

-Must understand how for-profit charters siphon away public money for use as private profits. Charters reduce services for children to increase the bottom line.

-Must vow to protect funding meant for traditional public schools that is lost when charters open in the district.

-Must know that no research has ever shown charters to be better than public schools, and many studies have shown them to be drastically worse.

-Must appreciate the lack of transparency charters are afforded feeds the growing plague of national charter financial scandals.

4) Work to Stop School Segregation

-Our public schools are more segregated now than they were before Brown vs. Board of Education 60 years ago. This is intolerable and makes it easy to disenfranchise students of color.

-Must not only recognize this, but have a plan to solve the problem.

5) Promise to Increase Public School Funding – Especially to the Poorest Districts

-Must understand that nationwide, rich schools spend on average 15.6% more than high poverty schools. Being born poor should not mean you get a worse education. In fact, impoverished students have greater needs than wealthy ones. It costs MORE to educate them.

-Must champion an effective plan to address funding inequalities with an emphasis an equity.

6) Have a Plan to Address Child Poverty

-Must understand that more than half of public school students live below the poverty line.

-Must have an effective plan to help children, parents and families rise out of poverty.

7) Allow Teachers Autonomy and Recognize Them as Professionals

-Must support letting teachers run their own classrooms, champion teacher-created tests over standardized ones – in short, LET TEACHERS TEACH.

-Must vow to eliminate any so-called teacher accountability programs that evaluate educators based on student test scores. Let teachers be evaluated by their own administrators based on classroom observations.

8) Stop Supporting Teach For America

-Must admit six weeks training for college graduates without education degrees is not good preparation to become classroom teachers. All students deserve a teacher with a 4-year degree specializing in education.

-Must condemn valuing TFA recruits who have only promised to be in the classroom for two years over teachers who have devoted their whole lives to their students.

9) Repudiate Any So-called School Choice or Voucher Programs

-Must understand that these policies are often backdoor support for the unconstitutional practice of spending public money on religious or parochial schools.

-Must recognize these policies are another attempt by private industry to convert public taxes into profits. Private schools are not subject to the same regulations as public entities and as such can freely use tax money in more nefarious ways.

-Must acknowledge that school choice is a sham – sending children to schools without public school boards paradoxically reduces the choice parents have over how the school is run.

-Public schools must remain public. Policies allowing for choice among schools – if done fairly – would increase the cost of public education exponentially. It is a much more efficient policy and less open to fraud if we instead ensure every student has a quality education. We need one excellent education system – not multiple ones.

10) Support the Right of Workers to Unionize

-Must support policies to make it easier for private citizens to exercise their collective bargaining rights. Period.


I would be willing to vote for any candidate who met all of these requirements regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, background or party affiliation.

That’s right. This job need not be filled by a Democrat. Any party will do. I am sick of being offered false progressives under a Democratic banner.

And Hillary Clinton coming right out of the gate praising Common Core may have been the last straw.

Why vote for her over Jeb Bush when they support THE SAME THING!?

No. I will not vote Democrat just because. Never, never again.

If they want my vote, they will have to meet my job application. I will vote to hire the best candidate. Whoever that is.

And I bet I’m not alone.

The education vote is no longer a gimme for the Democrats.

Progressive education candidates? Are you out there?


NOTE: This article was additionally published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

No TEST Left Behind – Why the Senate ESEA Reauthorization is Unacceptable

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Testing.

Testing.

One, two, three…

How about four? Maybe more.

There’s never enough testing for you and me!

And that’s exactly the problem with the Senate reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – the federal law that governs K-12 schools.

The Senate draft of the law (currently called No Child Left Behind) doesn’t do a single thing to limit or reduce standardized testing.

It keeps annual testing in place, untouched.

The legislation needs reauhorized every five years. After epochs of political stalling, the House and Senate are both hammering out versions of the law.

If this Senate version were enacted, public school students across the country would still be subjected to standardized tests in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

And legislators have the gall to call this the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.”

Ha! They should call it what it really is – No TEST Left Behind.

Now is the perfect moment to rein in our nationwide addiction to fill-in-the-bubble multiple choice tests. There is a national consensus that these sorts of assessments do more damage than good. Legislators should listen.

The Senate even asked concerned parents, teachers and people of conscience to write in with suggestions to improve the law. But instead of actually doing the most important thing on everyone’s list – the one thing that almost everyone who isn’t profiting off of the testing industry wants – they chickened out.

Why?

Education historian Diane Ravich has an interesting theory. In a comment on her blog, she says, “I have spoken to people directly involved in the negotiations who told me that President Obama made known that he would veto any bill that does not include annual testing.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the President’s threatened to veto this legislation. Just a few months ago he promised to return the House’s version of the ESEA if it left open the Title I piggy bank to privatizers.

That much-publicized threat was a sane response to an insane suggestion by partisans. But veto the ESEA if it didn’t have enough testing? That would be highly controversial.

Can I prove he said it? No, but Ravich is a reputable source. After all, she was U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush. She served under Lamar Alexander – then Secretary of Education and now one of the U.S. Senators chairing this reauthorization project. She’s in a unique position to know.

Moreover, this alleged threat is right in line with comments made by Obama’s own Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

“I believe parents, teachers, and students have both the right and the need to know how much progress all students are making each year towards college-and career-readiness.” Duncan said in a January speech.

“That means all students need to take annual, statewide assessments that are aligned with their teacher’s classroom instruction in reading and math in grades 3-8, and once in high school.”

Duncan’s assertion – clearly supported by President Obama – is that annual testing is necessary to show if kids are learning. Without it, we wouldn’t know if schools were teaching them.

This is absurd.

The ONLY way to tell if a child can read is a standardized test? The ONLY way to tell if a child can add and subtract is if they can choose between A, B, C or D?

Such an assertion is not only a slap in the face of every classroom teacher who grades their students on actual work done in the classroom, it’s also an insult to the intelligence of the American people.

Students do a variety of assignments throughout the year to demonstrate their learning – book reports, essays, group projects, reading aloud, homework, power point presentations – heck – even just walking up to the blackboard and solving a problem with a piece of old fashioned white chalk!

All of these things show nothing!? They provide no significant data with which to determine if a child is learning!?

I guess teachers just wander around all year saying “I’ll find out if my students learned anything when they take their state assessments. In the meantime I’ll just throw darts at the wall to determine the grades to put on their report cards.”

Moreover, where is the proof that standardized tests are such good indicators? Which peer-reviewed studies have ever proven that the results of these tests are – in fact – valid?

The answer: there are no such studies. In fact, there is a mountain of evidence that proves just the opposite. Standardized test scores are highly correlated with a child’s parental income. Rich kids generally score highly and poor kids score lower.

That’s what these tests measure – not academic achievement.

And it should be no surprise considering how they’re scored. Go on Craig’sList and find yourself an advertisement seeking test scorers. You need have no experience or degree in education. What counts as a passing score changes from year-to-year based on the whim of the scorers.

The whole system is set up to fail as many kids as possible in order to justify the need for more test prep materials which are often provided by the same giant corporations that make the tests in the first place.

And THIS is what Obama is demanding we keep in our public schools or else he’ll veto the legislation?

I say, “Fine! Veto it!”

Obama is already the testing president. He hides behind his lap dog, Duncan, but it is and always has been his policy to double down on George W. Bush’s bad educational ideas.

So I say we force him to own up. Make him admit it to the world, shout it to the heavens – I am President Barrack Obama, and I will do anything for standardized testing!

Then for once critics could actually blame him for something he really did.

Annual testing!? Thanks, Obama!

The President and Duncan claim to hear these testing criticisms, but they’re talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Duncan says he’ll ask Congress to include language in the ESEA to call on states to set limits on how much time can be spent on testing.

They demand we keep it, but let’s spend less time doing it!?

So we’ll still take all those math and reading tests, but maybe there will be less questions? We’ll force schools to spend less time on test prep by timing them and punishing those who don’t comply?

Which brings me to the best thing about the Senate version of the ESEA. It puts a stop to this kind of federal meddling. No more top down we-know-better-than-you federal mandates.

Annual testing is still in there, but the act leaves it up to states how to use the scores. No more Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The act forbids the federal government from dictating to states and districts how to help improve schools where kids are struggling.

Moreover, it no longer requires states to create new teacher evaluation systems, though it allows them to do so if they wish. And the fed cannot mandate or incentivize states to adopt particular standards such as Common Core. States are required to have standards but are free to determine their content.

These – at least – are positive revisions. They demonstrate why some education advocates are expressing cautious optimism about this Senate version of the ESEA.

But it’s just not enough. Sorry.

I could be political and say “It’s a good first step,” but that’s all it would be. A first step on a long and treacherous journey. Don’t start patting yourself on the back just yet. There’s a long way to go.

There’s no mystery what needs to be done to improve public education – fund it.

Stop wasting tax dollars trying to determine where the problem is. That’s obvious! It would be like a fire department spending all it’s money on a high tech machine to scan the city in infrared to determine where the maximum heat sources are and thus where they should dispatch the fire truck. But all they have to do is take the call and follow the smoke, screams and flames!

The high poverty schools are the ones that are struggling the most. More than half of our public school students live below the poverty line. They need help!

And stop offering funding with strings attached! We’ll let you buy books for your students if you use these fancy new standards that have never been tried or proven to work.

It’s time for action.

We must be bold. No more chasing after scraps. We must demand Congress get this right – regardless of presidential threats.

And please no grade span testing!

Even organizations like Fair Test – who rightly criticize the Senate ESEA for similar reasons outlined here – don’t go far enough in their demands of Congress.

Instead of asking for an end to standardized testing, they request a reduction. Not tests yearly in grades 3-8 and once in high school, but once in elementary, middle and high school.

Yes, it’s better than annual testing, but have some courage.

There is no need for our children to take even one standardized test. That should be our demand.

Zero standardized tests. Not six, not three, not one. ZERO.

We might not get it, but we’ll get a whole lot more than if we start from a compromise position.

The time is now. Write your Congresspeople. Write the President. Tell them in no uncertain terms – NO MORE STANDARDIZED TESTING!

PUT CHILDREN FIRST! LEAVE ALL TESTS BEHIND!


NOTE: This article also appeared in the LA Progressive and the Badass Teachers Association blog.