Saturday, June 29, 2013

Message To Badass Teachers After Two Weeks Of Organizing

Message to Badass Teachers

Good morning. There is no one I would rather hang with than the people on this site- a group of some the best teachers-and the best people- this country has to offer. As most of your know, being a teacher is not for the faint hearted, To command the attention and respect of young people, to inspire them, awake them, and build their confidence and character, you have to be Badass--- funny, creative, brave, passionate, sly, inventive, and flexible, a combination of an actor,a scholar, a healer, and a prophet. You are all of those and your brilliance makes this site come alive every day, the same way it does your classrooms. In trying to beat you down and force you to conform to a script, this country is ripping out it's heart and soul and doing a terrible disservice to its young people. I will not let that happen without putting on the fight of the Century and neither will you. No Justice, No Peace.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Power to the Teachers

Are You Ready to Rumble?

Good Morning Badass Teachers!!! I'm feeling rested, relaxed and ready for anything. Yesterday had its difficult moments. The haters and the skeptics were out in force, questioning our mission and our resolve, trying to sow dissension in our ranks, and leading half as many people to leave as we added. For the first time in nearly ten days, or net growth was 500 rather than thousand

But let's put things in perspective. We have 18,740 members on a Facebook page, 1,400 followers on Twitter, and 40 plus administrators on a group that was founded 
LESS THAN 2 WEEKS AGO! We have state BAT organizations forming all over the country, a hot new website and logo to be unveiled, and our second national action scheduled for Monday. But best of all, we have thousands of the smartest,, coolest, funniest, most passionate and most dedicated educators in the nation and the world making this initiative work and together WE ARE MAKING HISTORY!

Badass Teachers don't run when the going gets tough. Look at Chicago, look at Seattle, look at Newtown! We are going to fight for our students, our schools and ourselves as we have been doing all along, stronger now because there are so many of us working together. And we are not going to let party affiliation or ideological differences destroy our unity.

So, to quote paraphrase the great boxing announcer Michael Buffett "Badass Teachers, are you ready to rumble?" 

I know I am

Power to the Teachers!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Thoughts from a Coach on the Common Core Standards

Although most people know me as a college professor, I have spent almost as much time out of the classroom coaching as I have in the classroom teaching. My first job, at age 17, was teaching tennis at a summer camp, and when my kids were growing up, i spent 20 years coaching basketball, basketball and for a few years, soccer, in the neighborhoods near Prospect Park.

I took tremendous pride in my coaching, and in particular my ability to motivate and inspire a wide range of children and young people. Not only did many of my teams have girls- and girl stars- in leagues where the vast majority of players were boys, but I went out of my way to take kids who other coaches wouldn't or couldn't handle because they were considered "behavior problems." Despite this, no team I ever coached had a losing record. Some of it was because I held more, and longer practices than other coaches, but most of it was because I treated each player as an individual, with different aptitudes, different talents, and different emotional needs, and took a different strategy for each player to get the most out of what they had. Some kids I coached had so little confidence that they couldn't hit a ball pitched slowly to them or make a layup- I worked hours with them individually until they made a breakthrough on those relatively simple actions. For other more skilled players, I developed drills or exercises that encouraged them to employ the skills they already had at higher rates of speed. For the team as a whole I assigned fitness drills that everyone could do together. But I always taught skills with an understanding that different individuals had different learning curves as well as different starting points

Now back to curriculum The Common CORE curriculum is based on the idea that all students in a certain grade, everywhere in the nation, should learn a common set of skills and that they should be tested on how well they acquire those skills, and teachers rated on how well they acquire them

To me, this not only makes no sense for a single nation, it doesn't even make sense for a single CLASS! Children are enormously diverse in the ways they acquire, retain and display skills, be they physical, intellectual, or artistic. You try to make them all learn the same way, at the same pace, and they all suffer! Some will be left behind, some will be held back, all will be frustrated. The challenge of a great teacher, like a great coach, is to develop a team or group atmosphere in a class while encouraging the individuals in the class to each do the best work they are capable of. To drive everyone toward the same "outcome" at the same pace, will create frustration, demoralization and stress.

One of the things I do, to put this in perspective, is to imagine if someone gave me Common Core standards for coaching baseball and basketball. Everyone has to learn to field a bunt, make a cut off throw, or take a jump shot from the corner at the same point in the season. If that had been applied to me, not only would many of my players have left the team in humiliation, because they could never do what was asked, but my teams would all have lost and I would have quit coaching

What we are doing, with this national curriculum that claims to be a "non-curriculum" is humiliating students, destroying a love of learning, and undermining the unique talents for reaching individual students that our best teachers have.

This is not an Educational Renaissance, it is an Educational Nightmare

Just ask your Coach!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why I'd Rather be "Badass" Than Professional in Confronting School Reformers

Why I'd Rather be "Badass" Than Professional in Confronting School Reformers

What have teachers gotten by acting professional, insisting that changes in school policy be based on sound research and the advice of seasoned practitioners? Nothing!!! They have been totally marginalized from education policy discussions, and their voices ignored. We have nothing to lose by mocking those who have demonized us and taking pride in our strength and resilience. In the 'Hood" Badass is the highest compliment you can give someone. It connotes someone to be respected and feared. In this country, teachers have been neither. Time to Flip the Script!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

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.'

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.

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.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

As The Badass Teachers Association Approaches 10,000 Members

Friends!! Everyone here is part of something truly historic. We have recruited 9,000 members to this page in the first week of its existence, and will surely hit the 10,000 mark this weekend. There have been incredible stories posted on this page, and the debate has been passionate, as well it should be, given the issues at stake. The group has flourished as an open, non-partisan ( or as my friend Michael Bohr says multi-partisan) space, and the administrators will try to keep it that way.

As we go forward, I would suggest folks keep a couple of things in mind. First, that the Education Power Brokers know that we exist, and are worried. Don't be deceived by the lack of mainstream media coverage. People in the US Dept of Education, in the big education lobbies, and at the top levels of the major teachers unions are talking about us. Keep recruiting!!! The bigger we get, the more chance we have of really shaking education discourse in this nation to its foundations.

Second. Think of ways of translating this group's growth into action, on both a local and national level. There is now a critical mass of BAT's in many states. The administrators will help you find them. And we are gradually moving to create other vehicles for discussion and action other than this page. We will issue our first press release this weekend, create a blog and perhaps a website.

While I would be lying if I said I knew where this initiative is going, I feel in my gut that it might be a way for teachers to force themselves into education policy discussions from which they have been conspicuously excluded. This group is your instrument, and your voice. Keep building, keep recruiting, and we might well find our voice is finally being heard

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why I Love Badass Teachers

Badass Teachers teach, love and nurture children everyone has given up on, in good times and bad, children with disabilities, children who have been kicked out of their families, children who can't sit still, children who have seen unimaginable horrors, children who are homeless, children who are under constant stress, along with children who have happy lives, and happy families. They teach and love them all, and protect and defend them from physical threats and the threat of tests and assessments which humiliate them and destroy their love of learning

Badass Teachers stayed in the nation's toughest neighborhoods when everyone else left, amidst drug epidemics and drive by shootings, factory closing and fires, turning schools and their classrooms into refuges and place of hope, only to see themselves attacked for failing to reduce the "achievevement gap" by people who were in fancy colleges while they went to work every day , and then watching the same people close the schools they had devoted their lives to making work.

Badass Teachers protect their students every day, even at the risk of their own lives, and in Columbine and Newtown made the ultimate sacrifice, drawing upon their deep sense of mission and a love supreme. These heroic teacher stand as symbols of tens of thousands of teachers throughout the nation who have disarmed students, broken up fights, stopped gang wars from breaking our, put themselves in harms way in riots and brawls. This is the Badass ethos. This is what is REALLY means to put students first,

How Teachers Can Reach the Stage of "Badass Extreme!"

How to reach "Badass Extreme" ( for those who have successfully completed the early stages of Badass Training)

Here are some ways to convince students, colleagues, supervisors and yourself that someone would think once,twice and three times before messing with you

1. Keep a metal bat in your office. Say you have it because you bat cleanup on a championship softball team, but periodically stare at people's knees and shins as though you are sizing them up for a potential swing.

2. Put a slice in a tennis ball with a very sharp knife and squeeze it in your car, in your office, and when you want to make an impression at meetings. You will be amazed at what it conveys.

3. When you wake up in the morning, and before difficult meetings, say this to remind yourself what a Badass you are:

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, because I am the baddest motherf....r inn the valley."

I have undergone this training for years! It helped make me what I am today, for better or worse!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Starve the Data Beast! An Anti-Common Core Rap

Starve the Data Beast

Children cry while testers feast
If you want to save our schools
First Pearson tests for data
Then In Bloom sells it
There's a stench of corruption
So when testing comes
Opt your children out
Refuse the tests
So there will be no doubt
That teachers can teach
And children can learn
And as for the tests

Monday, June 17, 2013

Why the Badass Teachers Association Has Taken Off

Over the last few years, I have founded or helped found several Facebook groups engaged in education activism and protests against corporate control of public education and the test driven policies it has inspired. I helped create "Dump Duncan" and "Occupy Teach for America," the first two years ago, the second six months ago and each have been dynamic and successful in promoting conversation and activism

But nothing can compare to what has happened with a group I helped found earlier this weekend, with an activist from the midwest, Priscilla Sanstead, called "The Badass Teachers Association." Within one day, the group had grown to about 270 members, and then, through a recruiting contest we organized on the recommendation of a Long Island teacher, Marla Massey Kilfoyle, shot up to over 1,500 members between 4 PM and midnight on Sunday!

The surge of energy that accompanied this meteoric rise in membership is like nothing I had experienced before in Facebook activism. And it requires some explanation. What did a group with a half-humorous, and extremely provocative name, create such excitement among teachers all over the nation.

The key may lie in the statement we wrote describing our reason for creating the group

"This is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning"

At a time when high stakes testing and attacks on teacher autonomy have become official policy of both major parties, supported by the wealthiest people in the nation, and cheered on by the media, teachers may have reached a tipping point regarding the campaign of demonization directed against them, and the micromanagement of their
classroom lives, especially because leaders of teachers unions- who have accepted funds from groups like the Gates Foundation who support test driven teacher evaluation- have not fought back effectively against these efforts

Never have teachers felt more embattled, and never have they felt more alone. Many are contemplating retirement, more are under doctors care for stress and anxiety, all fear retaliation for speaking their mind about what is happening in their districts, their schools, and their classrooms

Now all of a sudden, a group appears, which symbolically and metaphorically, allows teachers to say "We've had enough. We are not your doormats. We are not your punching bags. We are some of the hardest working, most idealistic people in this country and we are not going to take it anymore. We are going to stand up for ourselves, and stand up for our students even if no organization really supports us. We are Badass. We are legion. And we will force the nation to hear our voice!

In terms of what policies or organizing strategies will emerge from this group, only time will tell. But it is significant that there are clearly thousands of teachers in this country who are fed up with polite, respectful appeals to policy makers who hold them in contempt and are ready to fight fire with fire.

In claiming the label "Badass" with pride, they are announcing a new spirit of resistance, which combined with similar movements among students and parents, could end up giving Corporate School Reformers much more than they bargained for

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Education Renaissance That Wasn't- A Less Romantic View of Charter Schools

The Obama Administration likes to promote charter schools as a vehicle for revitalizing education in inner city communities. Some of its officials like to speak of it sparking an "Education Renaissance"  in inner city communities.  I for one, am skeptical of these claims.  In the course of doing community history projects in the Bronx, I have encountered some excellent charter schools, but the majority of them seem to promote a nose to the grindstone emphasis on test prep and discipline that leave little rooms for arts, culture, history or community activism.

So I raise these questions to Charter School supporters and advocates. If charter schools are indeed promoting an "Educational Renaissance" in our inner cities, where is the great art and music that has come out of these schools? Where are the plays and films? Where are the programs that promote or uncover community history?  Where are the community forums around issues like stop and frisk and the school to prison pipeline?  Where are the innovative experiments in school based agriculture?  Where is the outreach to public schools that unites all schools in trying to inspire and empower students and families?

Unless someone can point to examples of these things I have overlooked, I will remain skeptical of the great promise  for community revitalization Charter Schools allegedly offer.  In some places, including the Bronx, they do give some parents safe educational options for children who can accept their rigid discipline, much like Catholic schools did in past generations. But because most see themselves as competitive with public schools,  and often try to undermine them, there is little evidence they improve overall educational opportunity in urban areas, much less serve as agents of community revitalization

Friday, June 14, 2013

Kisha Algood's Brilliant Speech Denouncing the City's Plans to Close 3 West Side Schools to Build Luxury Housing

Public School 199 has been catering to the Upper West Side community for several decades. Erected in 1963 it has seen generations of families enter its doors. District 75 caters to the special needs population, this valuable population has been catered by 199 for years. I was blessed to enter this school as a kindergartener. I was a shy, sweet, and supportive little girl that had a disability. When people talk to me, they assume my disability is physical but it isn’t. Socially I struggled making friends but I was persistent in talking to those who would listen. In 4th grade I was diagnosed with a specific learning disability and placed in special education classes. A specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the central nervous system processes involved in perceiving, understanding and/or using concepts through verbal language or nonverbal means. In other words my disability impeded my mathematical skills. I had to use a calculator but I always wished that I was able to do math homework without getting frustrated.
I also had occupational and physical therapy. My occupational therapist was Ireta London and my physical therapist was Elizabeth Crawford. I had these sessions on alternative days. When I wasn’t in therapy I had speech. Both these services were instrumental in my success at 199. Then I met an angel that was also a paraprofessional, her name is Nancy Youngman. I met her when I entered the 5th grade. She worked alongside my teacher for a few weeks before moving to a different classroom. She is one of those people who care deeply about the students she takes care of every year. My second angel and mom was Ms. Danielle Cione. Miss Cione was everything to us, and a special inspiration to me. The memories I had in 5-304 will always be in my heart.

Next I entered a school that was a vision in the eyes of an educational leader that would guide, nurture, and support us through our journey. It hurts not to say her name because she is an integral part of my success. The vision was given two floors within the current building that an elementary school resides in. That elementary school is PS 191. These two schools had conflicts in the past due to difference of opinion but they are a prime example of how two schools can work together to educate the future. A side note is that the building was built in 1955 and was a pre-kindergarten to grade two school, and in 2003 became a Pre-K through 8 school. Also known as The Amsterdam School, it serves the families of the neighboring projects. These children deserve a fair and equal education just like everyone else. A known fact is the government is planning on how many more cells to build because they don’t believe that the neighborhood in which the school is located will survive , how sad is that. For the next three years a family formed. From the love and respect we had for our peers to the love and guidance from our teachers, our school soared. Academically and visually I struggled but my teachers had nothing but open arms and encouragement for me. Two angels stepped forward and they are Miss Linda Troncoso and Miss Angelica Moran. These two shining stars taught math as a team. They were two teachers everyone wished they had. We shared in their joy and were there to help when they stumbled. Now these two females are mothers and are happy, and that’s all we wanted for them. I know we didn’t have a lot of money when we started, but money is a means but dedication and heart can’t be bought. Fast Forward 10 years and now they are a Magnet School , reaching above and beyond to educate young minds, This school may mean nothing to educational officials but it means the world to the community it has served for decades

Trickle Down Economics Without the Trickle- Thoughts on the Proposed Closing of PS 191 Near Lincoln Center

Yesterday, when I went to join the protest against the closing of PS 191 on 61st Street and 10th Avenue, two blocks from Fordham's Lincoln Center campus, I had a chance to walk around the area and I was stunned at how rapidly it was changing.  West of, and along 10th Avenue, it seemed that every inch of space, including the sites of what had once been  warehouses and garages, was being transformed into luxury apartment towers. The  PS 161 Schoolyard stood out for being the only flat area amidst the apartment towers, except for one small private park. No wonder developers coveted it! It was the only possible space to put up a new building, unless one knocked down the one public housing project left in the neighborhood, the Amsterdam Houses.

But as I walked around the neighborhood, I was stunned to find that such a densely populated place was almost completely devoid of people. Given the sheer number of apartments, I would have expected the streets to be crowded with bikers, walkers, people with strollers, folks going to and from work, or hanging out at cafes with their computers- the scene you could find any day in my own neighborhood of Park Slope, which was now a pretty rich area

But then I remember something I had been told about  the percentage of Manhattan apartments - one sixth -used as pied a terres ( second or third residences) by the global rich an thought- "What if no one is living in most of those apartments?" What if folks come to them two or three weeks out of the year to shop, sightsee, go to events at Lincoln Center? Would that explain the empty streets?

If that is true, and my gut instinct tells me it is, it makes the attempt to close PS 191 all the more pernicious. You are going to knock down a public school that served three generations of neighborhood residents, many of them living in the Amsterdam Houses, for people who aren't going to even LIVE in the apartment complex you are building! That 
is, to use the vernacular, foul!!! 

Middle class and working class families are now expendable in the globalizing city, be it Chicago, New York, or Washington, as are the institutions that serve them.

This is trickle down economics without the trickle

Thursday, June 13, 2013

When It Comes to "School Reform" the Time for Civility is Over

I will not be polite and civil about what is happening to our teachers and our students. I will not betray them by making excuses for those in power who are the source of their distress. I am only one person, but great movements are made by individuals who have said "enough is enough" joining forces with other like minded people. We are creating the critical mass able to wage a war of attrition against the richest and most powerful people in the country. The courage each of us finds from within encourages others to discover powers they never thought were there. We are many, our movement is growing, and out time will come. The Testing Machine will be beaten back. Count on it.

Why In Bloom Gets a Free Pass from People Who Should Know Better

How is it that a company which collects your child's test information and processes it without your permission is allowed to operate in all but a few states? In Bloom's legitimacy rests on the assumption that your child's right to privacy and your family's civil rights are trumped by the importance of data on educational performance by school, district, and state to our nation's striving for equity and global economic competitiveness. Since there can be no reliable data without a national data base, no exceptions can be allowed. Huge amounts of money have been invested in the tests and data collection systems to make this work. The only way to stop this train is to derail it through massive protests, lawsuits, and opting out of tests.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Demographics and Economics of School Closings: Who Loses, Who Gain

I am beyond enraged at the news that more than 3,000 people will lose their jobs as a result of the latest round of School Closings in Philadelphia, more than 80 percent of them Black. Couple this with the news that the city is supporting the construction of subsidized housing for Teach for America Corps members, my rage only gets greater.
There is a redistribution of jobs and income as a result of School Closings- which have now taken place in a massive scale in Detroit, New York and Chicago as well as Philadelphia - which makes the notion that this is a "Civil Rights initiative" absurd. 

Someone needs to do the accounting. How many jobs have been lost total by School Closings around the country mandated by Race to the Top? What percentage of these jobs were held by Blacks and Latinos? What is the total income lost as a result of these jobs disappearing.

Then look at the jobs which replaced those lost, not only in the Charter schools put in their place, but in the new testing and accountability offices introduced in Urban School systems to implement Reform policies. What percentage of those jobs are held by Blacks and Latinos? What is the total income gained as a result of the new jobs created?

If my suspicions are true, we are seeing a massive job loss which contributes to the dramatic widening of wealth gaps by race, and a further shrinking of the Black middle class.

But even if we take race out of the picture, we are seeing a redistribution of wealth and income from people of middle class and working class background, most of whom attended public universities, to upper middle class and upper class people, most of whom attended elite private colleges

If you think I am being paranoid, just do the calculations I suggest, and see what number YOU come up with. School closings are terrible educationally, and destabilize already hard pressed communities, but the income redistribution upward they produce may be just as damaging

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Proposal for Real School Choice in New York State

Instead of "Common Core" How about "Uncommon Children Deserve More'- A Proposal for Real School Choice

Driving back from Eastern Long Island this afternoon , I  had a vision of an educational revolution in New York State  that would replace the insane barrage of tests, teacher evaluations and cooker cutter curricular idea dictated by the infamous "Common Core Standards,  which are producing rage, frustration, and disbelief among parents, students, teachers and principals.

It's really a simple vision, but it's based on the option that testing, teacher assessment and adherence to the Common Core Standards should be optional, for those parents, students and school districts that want these policies rather than mandated for everyone in the state. Our children display marvelous diversity in background, aptitudes, talents, and dreams- why should they be forced to conform to a cookie cutter vision of what they should learn backed up by information gathering techniques worthy of a Totalitarian Society.

So, what I think we need is real CHOICE within regular public schools instead of having all innovation take place in Charters and private schools controlled by private interests  I would like the following to be made available as school options for local districts or even groups of parents and teachers to create

1.  A Vast Expansion of the State's Portfolio Schools. There are a small number of schools, probably less than a hundred in New York State, granted exemptions from State mandated testing, and teacher evaluations. I propose the the number of these allowed in the state be immediately increased TENFOLD!!!  I have spoke at and visited and hosted students from a great portfolio high school in Manhattan, Urban Academy and was tremendously impressed with what they are able to do. I would guaranteed there are tens if hot hundreds of thousands of parents in the state who would like their children in schools like this.  Give them that opportunity. Immediately!!!

2. Let's bring back the vocational and technical high schools with exemption from high stakes tests. When I was growing up in the 50's, there were great vocational high schools in New York City that taught automotive repair, airline maintenance, electronics, construction skills,  cosmetology and secretarial skills. They were systematically dismantled and forced to conform to a test driven curriculum.  Let's recreate them and add new skills in information systems, environmental technology,  health and fitness training, and, yes agriculture!!!  Farming is back, both urban and rural, and we could definitely benefit from schools which teach it.  Let's create  500 vocational and technical high schools throughout New York state in the next ten years!!  I bet they would all be filled up with eager applicants

  Just think of the joy and excitement creating portfolio and technical high schools would create. Just think of how many people would want to teach in them.

  And if it could happen in New York, it could happen anywhere

  What do you think folks. Is this a viable vision?

How Common Core tests Crush Creativity- A Message from Dave Greene

Yesterday I posted this comment in Facebook.
 "No standardized test can actually measure creativity or critical thinking for several reasons. For examples, how many ways are there to accomplish anything? Is there any one right way to solve a problem? How many different options will a standardized exam allow for? Will it recognize genius, or will it grade true genius a 1 out of 4 because it doesn't fit the standard?"

Today I received reply this on one of the group pages on which it was posted:
Karen M.F. ( I initialized the last name because her sister is a minor.)
 "My teenaged sister (who is absolutely brilliant) is convinced that she is bad at reading/lit. I asked her to explain (she is a straight A student at a top magnet school). She said "sometimes there is more than one answer." I didn't get it until she said that she could never figure out which bubble to fill in. A kid who could comprehend the whole Harry Potter series before she was 11, reads 2 novels a week, can discuss books with depth and understanding thinks she "sucks at English" because she is more nuanced in her thinking than the paper pusher who wrote the test. Since she started having trouble with reading comprehension questions on tests, she has become demoralized and is only phoning it in--why should she do more? The tests want her to dumb down her thinking. Our kids are going to learn to hate reading."

To how many students in all grades is this happening? How many creative and critical thinking children are being forced to withdraw form those acts because of common core tests supposedly designed to measure both of these incredibly important human traits? Will our children be reduced to robots? Were writers like Bradbury and Orwell right about the future?
Will we survive as humans?
David Greene

WISE Services 
Save Our Schools Steering Committee

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Common Core and Rock and Roll- Random Thoughts About Scripted Learning

For the last few days, I have been reading one depressing post after another from dedicated veteran teachers saying that every ounce of joy and creativity has been squeezed our of their classrooms by tests, assessments, micromanaging administrators and the scripted learning that come with adoption of the Common Core standards. 'In the discussion threads these posts have provoked, many people have commented that younger teachers don't feel the same despair, because carefully scripted teaching is all they have ever experienced.  And the conversation made me wonder, could these young teachers be, in their own way, extremely effective with the methods they have been acclimated to. Can their be great teaching when people follow scripts given to them from the top down?

And the whole conversation made me think about music. I was about to say that great teaching, like great music, is incompatible with careful scripting. Imagine someone trying to script a great jazz musician like John Coltrane, or Charlie Parker, whose greatest music was improvised, or the Grateful Dead.

 But then I started thinking of rock and roll and realized the picture was much more complicated. Some of the greatest rock and roll was scripted by dictatorial producers who basically took every ounce of freedom away from their artists.   Phil Spector did this with the Crystals and the Ronettes,  Berry Gordy did it with the Temptations, the Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, and the early Marvin Gaye.    And there was careful scripting in great songs that came out of the Brill Building with the Drifters, the Shirelles and other artists who performed the songs by writers like Carol King and Gerry Goffin and Leiber and Stoller.   And all of those songs were heartwarming, beautiful,memorable, landmarks of my childhood.

But what if that was the only rock and roll that was every produced? Where would that leave  Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, the Doors, the Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, Sly and the Family Stone, the Beatles, the Stones, Aretha Franklin,  Parliament Funkadelic, Santana, the post Vietnam Temptations and Marvin Gaye. Wouldn't we have gotten bored with what we had, however harmonic and beautiful it was? Wouldn't we have missed explosions of genius that changed our perceptions, expanded our minds, and changed the way people played their instruments and use their voices.

Under certain circumstances, scripting teaching, as well as scripting music, can produce interesting, occasionally inspiring results, but if all you do is script, you snuff out the creative impulse that allows us to reinvent ourselves and change the world. Creating a uniform world of scripted teaching and learning that imposes uniformity on a diverse nation, and children with diverse aptitudes is a prescription for educational and intellectual stagnation.

  We need an education that not only inspires and instructs, but to paraphrase the words of Jimi Hendrix "Let children's freak flag fly, high!"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Common Core Anthem

The Common Core Anthem
By Notorious Phd

If we want our country to be number one
We can't let children have any fun
We take away arts and give them tests
To insure our country's not second best

With Gates and Duncan leading the way
We're trying to ban recess and play
Students learn better feeling stress and fear
So we'll tap their brainwaves through wrist and ear

Monday, June 3, 2013

Message from a New York City Teacher Who Has Lost All Hope

I need to vent.....I am tired, burned out, stressed, and disenchanted.....I changed careers 11 years ago to teach. I had many influential teachers in my life and when I decided to change careers teaching was what I wanted to do. I wanted to make the same difference for another child as my teachers had made for me....however, if someone were to hand me another career right now and tell me I didn't have to go back to school tomorrow, I would take it in a heartbeat. I am a good teacher...there are some things I am great at, some that I am ok at, and some things I could improve....I know my strengths and weaknesses...I am not perfect, but I am good and the kids learn. I am tired of not being valued, being micromanaged down to practically every second of my day, being made to feel like a failure, like I cannot do anything right, to be made to feel like I am responsible for way to many things that are way out my control, for not being respected. The demands of the job are unreasonable, and truth be told, I could stay after school everyday until 7pm and never get done all the things they want done...and even if I could get them done I am sure it would not be good enough.

I am sad to be complaining, I would love to love my job. I completed graduate school with a 3.98 GPA and a 4.0 in all supplementary education classes I had to take to get certified. I am smart, capable, independent, creative, passionate.....however now, I am also a single mom of a special needs child. I cannot risk leaving a profession for the unknown. If I did not have these responsibilities or if I was still in my 20's and unattached I would quit and pursue a career where I was valued as a professional, and a thinking, feeling, capable, contributing member of a team.

A colleague's college aged daughter was thinking about grad school last year.....My friend told her daughter she would be happy to contribute to the cost of her graduate degree...unless she chose teaching. If she decided to become a teacher, she would be on her own. My friend said "This is not the life I want for you." Maybe the powers that be will figure all of this out in the years to come when people retire the very second they are eligible, and when the pool of new teachers graduating college diminishes to nothing.....first, school will no longer be inspiring to students with all the testing (if I were tested like these kids are, the teachers I loved that inspired me to teach, would not have been inspiring. They were out of the box thinkers, and these days would not be permitted to teach the way they did). Second, smart capable, passionate, creative people do not like (or stand for) being told how to do everything, micromanaged, criticized, rarely praised or recognized, and not being treated as professionals who have expertise that others do not. If I were a smart college student, teaching would be the last major I would look at these days. So much for recruiting the best and the brightest......they are driving them away.

I definitely did not become a teacher to get out of school at 3pm and have vacations and summers off. I did it to inspire and teach children. Now, solely for self preservation, I have to look at it that way. I am home to get my own child off the bus and help her navigate her education, and help her succeed. Sadly I have to look at it as "just a job", because when I let myself think about the stress and sadness I feel for my profession and all of those in it, when I think about the passion I have for the kids in my class with my hands tied in so many ways in things I can and cannot do to help them succeed against my better judgment, I get infuriated. And that makes me a very unhappy person, which is no good for me and no good for my beautiful little girl.........

Thanks and sorry for being the vehicle of my frustration...I am only speaking for myself, but I have a feeling there are many who might be able to relate....."

Why I Protest Closing Schools to Build Luxury Housing Near Lincoln Center

If you want to know why I am speaking at a rally and march this coming Fridaya, June 7, at PS 191 near Lincoln Center to protest the closing of three schools to construct luxury housing, consider this statistic--- there is a 13 year waiting list for public housing in New York City!! That's right, 13 years!! Given the budget cuts in the New York City
Housing Authority and the generally bad reputation of "the projects" in mass media, that is a sobering comment on what kind of options poor and working class families have in New York City, Many are living doubled and tripled up, some are in rented rooms, some are boarders in other peoples homes, sleeping on couches in their living rooms.

Now let me give you another statistic. Approximately 1/6 of all apartments in Manhattan are used as "pied at terres" ( part time residences) for wealthy people from other countries. When you see a new luxury high rise going up in Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn ( yes,, we have them too) you can bet that a good portion of those apartments are going to be vacant much of the year

Now return the the plan I am protesting The city plans to knock down three public schools in the area near Lincoln Center to build luxury high rises, relocating those students to other area schools. A more potent symbol of misplaced policy priorities in New York City could hardly be found. Here, children of poor, working class and middle class families are being displaced to build apartments for extremely wealthy people, many of whom don't even plan to live in them full time!! For special needs children who get services in these schools, the closings are a particular tragedy, but all of the children will be profoundly inconvenienced by being placed in a new school out of walking distance, and being separated from longtime teachers they have developed strong relationships with.

What we have here is a toxic combination of two philosophies that have achieved dominance in cities throughout the country. First, that the private real estate market should drive urban planning, and given the concentration of wealth among global elites, this insures that luxury housing will be seen as the primary engine of growth. And second, that public schools should be treated as service providers to consumers, rather than vital community institutions, and can be closed at will, either because they fail to provide quality service, or stand in the way of economic development.

The result of these policies, which we have seen play out in Chicago and Washington as well as New York, is that public school children become chess pieces in high stakes reform and development strategies developed by the rich and powerful. Their interests and needs, and those of their families, are erased, allegedly for the
"greater good."

But the question must be asked-- for the greater good of whom?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Reptiles and the Common Core

When I was growing up, I was obsessed with reptiles. I loved the reptile house in the Bronx and Staten Island zoos and whenever I went to the country, I collected snakes! I used to keep a collection of garter snakes and grass snakes in our bungalow in the Adirondacks and even caught a water snake or two. And i did school reports on reptiles, especially pythons, cobras and anacondas! What would they do with me if I were in school now. Where do reptiles fit in the Common Core? How do you test children on their knowledge of reticulated pythons? Once again, I think back about the child I was, whose imagination was allowed to soar in the public schools I attended, even though there was much regimentation and memorization, because of time given for recess, trips and school projects. In or rush to make children "college and career ready" are we squeezing out the very things in them that inspire them with a lifetime love of learning.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

How Parents from Different Backgrounds United to Save Brooklyn's Largest Youth Sports Program

When when Liz and I moved into Park Slope in 1976, the house we bought- for very little- was across the street from St Saviour's High School and parish church on 6th Street, a block from Prospect Park. I was a sports fanatic who began training my daughter Sara to throw hit and catch from the time she was two, so as soon as she reached the age of five, I took her across the Street and enrolled in the baseball league sponsored by St. Saviour's Youth Council. The gym that day was filled with three hundred families, about two thirds long time Irish and Italian residents of Park Slope, many of whom were parish members and about a third who looked like ex hippies, who represented the new wave of migrants into the neighborhood. 

Thus began an amazing 15 years of my life coaching, and eventually, helping run an amazing youth sports organization.. My daughter Sara became a star of boys baseball,  then boys basketball, playing on travelling teams as well as in the neighborhood league and my son Eric, four years younger, but equally talented, followed suit. Within two years of my daughter's enrollment, I was invited to join the Board of the St. Saviour's Youth Council, where I joined a dedicated group of individuals most of whom were long time neighborhood residents in running a program that was rapidly getting a reputation as the best youth sports organization in Brooklyn and attracting parents from Bed Stuy, Red Hook, Carroll Gardens and Prospect Heights as well as Park Slope.

 When I was invited to join the Board, nobody knew my background as an ex-Columbia activist who had been arrested several times,  or had read anything I had written. They only knew me as a big, loud, athletic guy who loved coaching and had a daughter who could compete with the best of the boys. And I knew nothing about the political perspective of other board members, who included cops, firemen, small business people.secretaries, along with a few lawyers and teachers.  We looked different and clearly had different histories, but when it came to providing young people with the best possible opportunities to play baseball and basketball, we all were equally passionate an equally dedicated. We spent hours and hours meeting together, supervising teams and leagues together, and occasionally drinking together--celebrating our accomplishments with a great awards banquet and an annual "Fifties Dance" featuring doo wop groups like Vito and the Elegants.

  Then, after I had been involved in the program for about seven or eight years. we faced a crisis. The parish priest Monsignor James ..........., became increasingly enraged that the majority of young people playing ball and congregating in his parish gyms were not parish members, and worse yet, as he made clear in  some very blunt remarks, contained large numbers of Jews and Blacks.  He decided  to evict the program from the parish, not only taking away precious space, but removing Catholic Youth Organization sponsorship.

 The Board and parents were all in shock. The program had now grown to over 900 youngsters and was a true cross section of Brooklyn's varied ethnic groups.  Most people, especially those who were parish members, were skeptical that we could resist the Monsignor's eviction order, so I decided to "come out of the closet" as a ex student revolutionary. I told the Board that I had been part of the movement which prevented Columbia University from building a gymnasium on a public park,  which everyone had regarded as a "fait accompli" when it was proposed, and I was confident we could get the Brooklyh Diocese to overturn the Monsignor's actions.  The Board was so enraged by what was happening that they decided to join me in challenging the eviction order, and so began a movement that involved hundreds, if not thousands of families that included petition drives, rallies, letter writing campaigns, and well placed newspaper articles. We formed a negotiating team to deal with the Diocese, which included me and a famous lawyer, Ed McDonald, and began a very difficult set of meetings. At first, the Diocese insisted that the Monsignor "owned" the parish and that his word had the power of law. But when they saw how many people were coming to the demonstrations we organized and read the racist quotes from the Monsignor that had been strategically placed in newspaper articles by sympathetic reporters, they changed their position.  They said we could continue to use the parish facilities if we paid rent and found another sponsor

   When we brought the news to the Board and parents, they were overjoyed We got to local police precinct to allow us to operate under their name and 501 c 3, which continuing to play CYO ball as St. Saviour's.  The program not only survived, it expanded, and has thrived to this day.

   There is a lesson here,I think for parent organizers trying to to organize families to resist out of control testing and the Common Core.  When people of different backgrounds and political perspectives get together in defense of their children well being, not even the post powerful institutions can stop them.   We accomplished  the "impossible" then, and we can do it now!