Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Common Ground in the Movement Against Excessive Testing

Since  The Badass Teachers Association was formed three and a half months ago, I have appeared on nearly ten local talk radio programs explaining the rise of the group, in states ranging from Colorado, to California to Florida, to Arizona (where i was interviewed yesterday) My hosts- and their audiences- have come from many points of the political spectrum- some Conservative, some Liberal, a few from the Left. Yet there were a few points I made that seemed to touch a chord with ALL my interviewers, and their listeners

1. There is far too much testing going on in our public schools, much of it as a result of federal mandates
2. There is too much scripting and micromanaging of teachers.
3. The testing and micromanaging is making kids hate school and teachers hate their jobs
4. A whole bunch of people are making money and/or promoting their political careers 
by supporting these destructive policies

These points of Common Ground are not insignificant. They provide the basis for a 
national movement of teachers, parents and students to push back the Test Machine.

Friday, September 27, 2013

How to Avoid What Works Best in Motivating Students

In all the literature coming out of the US Department of Education, why is it I never see reference to the one thing I know that works in motivating students, but especially students in high needs communities- individual attention from a teacher, coach, arts instructor, school counselor or librarian that goes well above and beyond the call of duty and lasts for years? I know from personal experience that this works. And I also know there is no short cut using testing, technology and scripted teaching that is a substitute for it. Then why isn't it mentioned, must less promoted?. Because to have this work, you need teachers whose careers last more than a few years, who live in the communities they work in and have the cultural capital to connect with the young people they teach. And finding and supporting such teachers would go against every single education reform which is currently being promoted- which, whether intentionally or not, increasingly generates a revolving door labor force that is forced to work from scripts and has no time to give students individual attention. And because of this, don't be surprised if our schools, in ten years, do an worse job of education students in need than they do now, while demoralizing those still hanging- just barely- to middle class status.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

No "Grit" For Me

Of all the words in the Corporate Education Reform lexicon, with the possible exception of "rigor," none irritate me more than "grit." It is the ultimate middle class affectation superimposed on inner city youth. In all my years in inner city communities, as an athlete, teacher and coach, I have never heard anyone use the term "grit." Not in a basketball game, not in a conversation, not in a hip hop lyric someone is creating. So to see it used as the ultimate character trait that schools are supposed to instill - to the point it features in US Department of Education grant proposals- just dramatizes how much School Reformers see the culture of the neighborhoods they are trying to improve schools in as something to overcome rather than build on.

So to honor this dubious corruption of language and policy, Notorious Phd has written a short jam about the word called "No Grit for Me"

I learned all about grit
During my first year at K.I.P.P.
I was taught by TFA
I learned how to be a toughie
From Muffy and Buffy
God bless the USA.

On Observing Teachers to Death

Note on tenured professor privilege ( and why the powers that be want to eliminate people like me)-- I have not been observed ONCE since I was promoted to Full Professor over 20 years ago! Does this mean that I have decided to "punch it in" and collect my salary, while putting my students to sleep with stale lectures that i write on the blackboard? Exactly the opposite. Not only have I not been "coasting," I have never worked harder to make my classes exciting and entertaining- or more in tune with the latest research in my field- that I have in the last ten years. Why? Because of professional pride. Teaching is my heart, my soul, my life, and the key to it is learning from and responding to each group of students who come to my class, as much as building on my own research as well as that of top scholars in my field. If you don't understand what drives me, and the millions of teachers like me around the country, you will surely snuff out the spark of creativity that thrives in classrooms from Pre-K to graduate school. We are observing and evaluating public school teachers to death and are about the same to do with college professors. What we are doing is sick, counterproductive and devised by people who have never been in the classroom or have gotten out of it as quickly as they could when they found out teaching was too demanding for them

Why So Many Teachers Are Claiming the Label "Badass"

Why So Many Teachers Are Claiming the Label "Badass"

Many people, including some teachers, are confused as to why so many teachers are proudly calling themselves "badass" and joining a group which calls itself "The Badass Teachers Association, ' which was founded in mid June2013 and now has nearly 29,000 members and subgroups in all 50 States

While I cannot speak for all, or even most, of the people who have taken that step, I have been in communication with enough of these teacher activists to offer an explanation.

How would you feel after working hard all your life, and putting your heart and soul into a helping profession, people in influence have identified you, before the entire nation, as responsible for some of our society's worst failures and said you were spoiled, lazy, overpaid, and incompetent?.

Worse yet, after subjecting you to this public demonization, they ram through policies which undermine your job security, subject you to evaluation procedures which violate both due process and common sense, and seek to script and micromanage what you do in the classroom as to make it virtually impossible to inspire and motivate your students, and in some instance subject them to levels of testing that reach the proportions of child abuse.

Then to pile insult on injury, when you protest against these policies, in the most reasoned and respectful tones, mount petition drives, organize marches and demonstrations, political leaders laugh at you, disregard your complaints, and systematically exclude you from every policy making body or forum that shapes what is going on in the nation's schools. ( The most recent example of this is NBC's "Education Nation" which doesn't have one currently employed public school teacher on its panels).

No matter what you do, it seems, to politicians, businessmen, billionaire philanthropists, your comments will always be rendered irrelevant because they have convinced themselves, without the slightest real understanding of what you do that you are a "Bad Teacher."

Given that, it is a logical step to take a label of opprobrium, flip the script and turn it into a mark of pride. Yes we are Bad, but not Bad in the traditional sense, but "Bad" in the way that African Americans flipped the script in the 60's, Bad as being not just good, but GREAT!

So Badass Teachers are teachers tired of pleading for respect. They are demanding respect and demanding the right to redefine the language used to talk about them

And that is a first important step to demanding a BIG place at the table in shaping education policy

Watch for us in late July when we bring 50,000 teachers to Washington to surround the US Department of Education to demand an end to Race to the Top and the incorporation of teachers into every policy body and forum debating the future of the nation's public schools

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Contradiction at the Heart of Corporate School Reform- That NBC's "Education Nation" Ignore

Corporate Education Reformers want teachers to be scripted, monitored, and continuously evaluated to assure their performance is up to standard. They also want to radically improve the quality of the nation's teaching force. Unfortunately, the first goal-- which they are well on their way to achieving- totally undermines the second! Talented people will NOT work under minute and humiliating scrutiny. Under the new regime, great teachers are leaving the profession much faster than they are entering it! This is a contradiction that will never be discussed on NBC's Education Nation, which systematically excludes any teachers voices, much less those who will tell the harsh truth about the catastrophe that has befallen public education in the US.

Common Core- Stress, Intimidation and the Suberversion of the Democratic Process

Because Common Core aligned tests are developmentally inappropriate for many students, and dramatically ratchet up the stress levels of student, teachers and families, they can only be imposed with top down tactics that feature threats and intimidation. The entire process must be exposed- not just the tests themselves- because it represents an abuse of power by elected officials, and a grave threat to traditions of local governance and parental rights. Right now, many parents and teachers are frightened and shell shocked which makes it especially important for those of us who know what a grave threat to Democracy this is to speak out everywhere and anywhere. Americans are a rebellious, contentious, and independent people and this attempt to whip their children into line will ultimately fail.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The "School Choice" Reformers Never Promote

In the third chapter of Diane Ravitch's new book "Reign of Error" she points out that what Reformers call "Choice" is really privatization. The measures they promote- vouchers and charters schools, all work toward undermining public schools systems. They NEVER promote measures that enhance parent choice WITHIN public school systems. There are two such options which I think BATS should embrace:

1. Radically expanding the number of public "portfolio schools" which are exempt from state and national tests and which rate students on the basis of assessments of their classwork developed by teachers. There are several such schools in New York City which are highly successful, but their number has been capped by the city and state departments of education. Why not give teachers and administrators a chance to create many more such schools all over the country, as an alternative to the test centered schools following a one size fits all curriculum. That would give parents a real choice while allowing teachers to maintain the union protections they have in public schools that are lacking in most charter schools

2. Create, or recreate the vocational and technical high schools that were once a fixture in every American city, and give them full or partial exemptions from state tests. Let these schools to be targeted to growth areas in the American economy as well as sectors where high wage jobs have existed for a long time- construction, automobile and elevator repair, computers and the like. These schools would give parents a most welcome alternative to schools which feature little more than test prep and no direct job preparation. And would create positions for a new generation of teachers who would love their jobs.

Think about these options. If you were a parent, wouldn't you want to have choices like this for a child

Then how come no major Reformer is pushing for them? Makes you wonder, doesn't it, whether as Diane Ravitch reminds us, what they call choice really means Privatization and Profit.

A Tale of Teacher ( and Student) Abuse from Upstate New York

Hello, just read your post about teacher abuse. I'm always putting students first, but wanted to share something. I work in a semi-urban elementary school in ........ Last year was one of the worst years I ever had. Many students were dealing with serious family issues or mental problems. It was bad. My heart felt like it was coming out of my chest. My dr. Put me on some anxiety meds. It helped. The year got better for various reasons and i weaned myself off the meds. The week after the test many students were behaving very poorly. again family or severe ADD and mental problems. It was at this time in the year I drove home each day sobbing. The stress of the tests, common core, teaching with boring materials, Pearson's Reading Street and the dreadful GO Math really gets to you. Ii also discovered that three other teachers in my building were on meds because of the stress. How many others out there are seeking help to deal with the incredible stress placed on teachers right now. I bet it is more than we could ever imagine. The rigorous curriculum is turning kids off to learning. It is dry boring! Just wanted to share a personal story. Feel free to share anything I said to discuss the high level of anxiety in teachers. Just don't use my name:) Have a great day! One day at a time!!!!!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Brief Education Manifesto

We need kids to learn auto repair , electronics, construction trades, computer and air conditioning repair, airline mechanics, food production and preparation, urban agriculture and aquaculture-- along with test taking skills. The one size fits all college professional school model works for some- but this other track has to be cultivated too 

Building school around test taking skills is an unmitigated disaster in the Bronx- we have recess and gym being used for test prep in communities which have the highest obesity rates in the nation.

I am all for re-imagining schools- but not through testing and preparing everyone for college. College today is no panacea. Many people leave it with huge loans and limited job prospects.

Cognitive development yes--relentless testing and college prep for all- no

Monday, September 16, 2013

Why Professors Who Support Unions Should Bar Teach for America From Their Classes

If you are a professor, and allow Teach for America to recruit in your classroom, you are complicit with a stealth attack on the American Labor Movement.

Here's why:

In Chicago and Philadelphia, TFA has made sweetheart deals to have their Corps members hired in charter schools after hundreds of veteran union teachers have been fired when public schools have been closed. In other cities around the nation,  like Buffalo,  where this is no teacher shortage, TFA has tried to cut
the same deal.  An organization founded to address a teacher shortage in low income communities, is now, whe
no such shortage exists, actively encouraging municipalities to close public schools and replace them with charter schools so its Corps members can find jobs.

 The Teach for America leadership, whose largest single contributor is the fiercely anti-labor Walton Family Foundation, has allowed TFA to  become a replacement labor agency.

 While there are other features of Teach for America-- from its test driven pedagogy, to its refusal to extend the time commitment of its Corps members to more than two years- that are highly questionable and undermine the teaching profession, its venture into uniobusting and strike breaking truly places it beyond the pale.

The BATS- Shadowing The Ed Deformers Every Step of the Way

Corporate Education Reform is filled with opportunists. We have Governors Chris Cristie and Andrew Cuomo, right across the Hudson River from one another, one Republican, the other a Democrat, each hoping it provides the formula to take them to the White House. We have Michelle Rhee, Stever Perry and Wendy Kopp, each using attacks on teachers and teachers unions to elevate them to national prominence and allow them to command large speaking fees. We have Pearson and Rupert Murdoch standing make a fortune from testing and data sharing. BATS are here to spoil their party. To hound them and challenge them every step of the way when they sacrifice students and teachers to their ambitions. We plan to be their worst nightmare- teachers motivated by love for their students  who will turn into their shadow,being loud and present where ever and whenever they plan to expand their influence. More BATS, more trouble for those who seek to profit from other's misery.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Letter to the Fordham President on Assessment and US Department of Education Mandates

Dear Father McShane and Esteemed Academic Administrators
   I returned to my 44th year of teaching at Fordham with great excitement and a growing sense of trepidation about national trends in higher education and how they might effect the Fordham community.
   My classes have never been better. I have wonderful students who are excited about the material and go the extra mile to bring new material and new issues to my attention. I have great graduate and undergraduate student workers for the Bronx African American History Project and have worked out an arrangement with the Fordham library staff to gradually digitize and preserve our entire oral history collection
   But yesterday, I received a document about assessment that reinforced my worst fears about how US Department of Education mandates may be affecting teaching and learning at Fordham.
On a section of the document entitled "Goals and Assessments: Are You Suceeding" the following phrases appear "Desired Student Outcomes" "Assessment of Student Outcomes" and "Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes."
   Rarely have I encountered language which undermines the goal of all liberal arts education than this. What it does to the ideals of Jesuit education is even worse.  Never, in all my years of teaching did I think of what I was doing was "producing outcomes." I was trying to inspire young people to think more creatively, to seek out new perspectives and new experiences, to build communities inside the university and out, and to develop greater confidence in their own capacity to take intellectual, moral and spiritual risks.
    While I will, as in the past, participate in legitimate efforts to assess what we do in our Department in a manner consistent with our traditions, I cannot and will not use language that violates my conscience as a teacher and a scholar.
    I know many of you agree with me in principle, but are afraid of the consequences for the University if we defy the mandates of the US Department of Education.
    But in moments like this, someone has to say "No" and it might as well be me
    I categorically refuse, even at risk of terminating my employment, of inserting the word 
"student outcomes" in any of my syllabi or sign off on any assessment document that uses that language.
     This, to me is a matter or conscience as well as of principle.
     And lest you think I fear being assessed, here are some of what be considered my "out comes"
      More than 50 of my former students who have received doctorates in the arts and sciences and are teaching in universities around the world
       More than 30 of my former students who have published books with university presses which are considered important works of scholarship in their filed
       Hundreds of my former students who are working in schools, community organizations, government agencies, trying to bring to life the commitment to a life in pursuit of justice they were exposed to at this University.
       Founding and administering, along with my former students and many Bronx community partners, one of the most respected community based oral history projects in the nation, the Bronx African American History Project.

   I take my stand on my conscience and my record
      Let the chips fall where they may

Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Founder and Principal Investigator, Bronx African American History Project.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

You May Win Some, But You Just Lost One- One Teachers Response to The DeBlasio Victory

Bill DeBlasio's victory in the NY Democratic Mayoral Primary ( it is still unclear whether he will face a runoff) is one of the first by a major candidate who took a strong stance against Corporate Education reform, and hopefully it will set a trend around the country.

DeBlasio, strongly supported by Diane Ravitch and her son Michael, along with thousands of parent and teacher activists in the NYC school system, soundly defeated the candidate informally supported by the Mayor, Christine Quinn, and the candidate supported by the United Federation of Teachers, William Thompson, whose finance chair happened to be head of NY State Regents Chair Merryl Tisch.

While DeBlasio's victory stems as much or more from his fierce opposition to "stop and frisk" and hospital closings as his education policies- his opposition to excessive testing, school closings and charter school co-locations, along with the open hatred he inspires among charter school entrepreneur Eva Moskowitz, led many education activists to campaign for him even while the UFT campaigned for Bill Thompson.

We have all learned, through harsh experiences, that what a candidate says when they are campaigning may be very different than they do when they govern, and that the Billionaires have a way of asserting their influence behind the scenes when the excitement of an election quiets down.

But for the moment, teacher and parent activists should take notice that a strong anti-testing candidate can win elections on a very big stage, and that there is a deep well of public dissatisfaction with the Corporate Reform policies being pushed so hard by both major parties.

We still have a huge amount of work to do in the runoff- if there is one- and in the general election- but we still can say, in the words of the great Lauryn Hill "You may win some, but you just lost one."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Solidarity With Chicago.-Protest Teach for America

Solidarity with Chicago- Protest Against Teach for America

Today, teachers across the nation are thinking about Chicago, where Rahm Emmanuel announced that he plans to open 52 new charter schools staffed by Teach for America Corps members in a city where 50 public schools have just been closed. This is a declaration of war on teachers, students, and hard pressed neighborhoods, and a throwback to the ugly years before the Great Depression when union busting was the American Way. Teachers who care about justice, and our many allies will fight this with every organizational weapon at our disposal. We will shine the bright light of publicity on the main players in this disgraceful drama- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and TFA Founder Wendy Kopp-as well as Education Secretary Arne Duncan- and participate in and organize demonstrations at their headquarters, but we will also ask those with direct connections to these organizations to take other actions. Current and former TFA Corps members- mobilize among your cohort to protest the Chicago strategy of the TFA leadership. Faculty members at major universities, organize your colleagues to refuse to let TFA recruit in your classes. This is WAR.

Teach for America has become the 21st Century Version of the Pinkerton Agency
Solidarity with the Teachers and Children of Chicago is the Appropriate Response

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Making Test Abuse a Medical and Legal Issue

During the past six months, I have received scores of emails and Facebook messages from teachers who describe the anxiety and stress that some of their students have been under as a result of excessive or developmentally inappropriate tests. Such complaints are likely to increase in the coming year as Common Core Standards are implemented in school districts across the country, with no exemptions for special needs or ELL students, for whom the tests associated with CCSS are often an exercise in humiliation.

While it is our duty, as education professionals, to speak out against such abuse, it is not clear that such advocacy will get a sympathetic response from the public, as we have been so demonized by the media and elected officials, as to render every thing we say suspect

It is therefore time to start bringing other professionals into a public debate about the abusive levels of testing currently being imposed in our public school- in particular lawyers, doctors, psychologists and counselors. Such an approach should have two components. First, every teacher who sees their own students suffering intolerable levels of stress and anxiety- especially those which turn into medical conditions requiring treatment- should privately document what is happening. Secondly, leaders of teacher activist groups such as BATS, or leaders of teachers union locals, should quietly approach lawyers and medical professionals in their area to see if they are willing to launch class action lawsuits in behalf of affected students or call for public hearings by school boards or town or city councils to document and discuss test abuse.

And while that is happening at the local level, researchers in the field should approach national organizations like the American Bar Organization, the American Medical Association, or the American Psychological Association, to see if they are willing to organize sessions on test abuse at conventions and national meetings.

It is time the conversations that teachers are having among themselves about the destructive consequences of high stakes testing be brought to a much larger audience. But that also requires us to carefully -- and in most cases privately-document the catastrophe we see happening around us.