Thursday, October 31, 2013

School Reform, Schools Closings and Historic Memory- A Tragedy in the Making

I am an historian by training and a history teacher by profession, and one of the dimensions of the dominant education policies in this country which disturb me the most is how they erase history and historic memory. 

I am not just talking about marginalizing the teaching of history,though that is definitely one direct consequence of current reform policies.. Even more serious are institutional decisions which end up destroying historical memory and the possibility of using the wisdom and cultural capital of past generations. 

First among these are school closings, which have had their primary effect in inner city neighborhoods, from Buffalo to Baltimore to Chicago to Los Angeles. These so called "failing schools" have all had rich histories, some of them close to a hundred years in the making, which involve themes ranging from migration and immigration, to musical creativity, to changing economies and neighborhoods, which live in the experience of alumni as well as documents the schools themselves have preserved.
Closing the schools not only shatters the possibility of drawing upon that rich cultural capital, it sends a message to students that nothing in the past is that important, including their own families and cultural traditions, treating them as clay to be molded by people who see the past- at least for people like them- only as failure.

Second, and connected, is the destruction of teaching as a lifetime profession, reflected not only in the firings and layoffs associated with schools closings, but with thinly disguised efforts to drive veteran teachers out of the profession through a combination of burdensome and humiliating assessments and observations, and open preference for teachers who come from alternative certification programs like Teach for America where the vast majority of participants stay for only a few years. More and more, the schools in poor and working class neighborhoods are filled with young teachers who don't live in those communities, don't know anything about their histories, and stay only a few years.

All this has happened very fast, but we need to ponder its consequences. Basically, what we have done is erased the power of historic memory among a whole generation of young people growing up in poor communities, implicitly suggesting that they are in possession of no traditions worthy or preserving and that the people most important in their lives, family members, neighbors, religious leaders, and the like, are not to be looked to for wisdom, leadership and inspiration.

And if school reformers have their way, this erasure of memory will spread to public schools everywhere, treating children not as members of families and communities whose traditions can enrich teaching and learning, but as clay to be molded as the behest of powerful elites.

This has been going on under the radar screen for many years. It is time its undemocratic implications be exposed and discussed.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An Early Teach for America Recruit Calls for Organization's Abolition

 Reflections on TFA by Grace Kamagana

I was an early TFA recruit and I am looking for a way to fight from within. I despise what TFA has become and what it's done to my colleagues of color. I am also a Princeton Alumnus, close to many people who have access to Wendy Kopp. I have been a teacher for 15 years now, I am a parent of 3 in public schools. There are many of us out here ashamed of what TFA is doing and I for one intend to do something about it. A lot of TFA corps members go into it very idealistically particularly back when I did it. At that age what we don't understand is that the basic premise is- you are smart so you are better than those traditionally trained teachers just because you went to Princeton. Well... it's taken me 15 years to become a good teacher and every year I learn something new. TFA's premise and 5 week training program is an insult to the teaching profession and abusive to children. It has to go.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The BATS and the Teachers Unions

This organization has now been around for over 5 months, and has become an essential part of the Education Activism landscape. It has given hope to many teachers who thought they were alone in opposing the wave of Testing descending on our public schools, and solidarity to others engaged in brutal battles in their states and localities to protect their jobs, their students and their professional integrity.

As BATS has grown, one our of the most important roles has been to serve as a gadfly to and critic of the leadership of NEA and AFT who have sometimes been complicit with policies we are fighting. Some would even say we have become the conscience of those two organizations.

That is an important role, but it needs clarification. Many members of BATS are also members and leaders of NEA and AFT chapters at the state and local level. They are working to change policies they disagree with from within, not to form alternative organizations. BATS is not, and has never been,the nucleus of a dual union .We defend teachers unions in principle, think strong teachers unions are a necessarily correlate of a strong public school system, and will fight to protect the two national teachers unions we have from outside attack

If this position confuses people outside of BATS so be it. We are a militantly pro union teachers organization that reserves the right to criticize leaders of the national teachers unions when we think they have gone "off mission" or show too much deference to politicians and Corporate leaders

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Restore Recess Party New York State- Draft of Education Program

       "Let Kids Be Kids!"

1. Restore Recess. No use of Recess or Physical Education time for Test prep
2. Cut the state testing budget in half and use the money to lower class size and fund arts programs, sports programs and school counselors.
3. No Data Sharing. No information about children can be shared with anyone outside of the school district without parental permission
4 Create a new Education Policy Committee to replace the Education Reform Commission, and require it to have a majority of currently active teachers and parents
5. End the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations.
6. Cancel all State Education Contracts with for profit companies
7. Stop all School Closings- Help Schools in Trouble, Don't Close Them
8. End state support for the Common Core Standards- Leave that decision up to each individual school district.
9. Multiply the number of portfolio schools which require no tests at all. Let teachers and parents form them within the public school system, not as charters
10. Bring back vocational and technical education into every school district if parents and teachers support it
11. Withdraw from Race to the Top and take no Federal Funds that require more testing or adoption of Common Core Standards
12. Make sure all schools, especially those in high poverty areas, have strong after school programs.
13, Make Community History welcome in the schools.
14. Encourage the creation of school farms and gardens.
15. Exempt special needs students from all state tests and require that they get instruction appropriate to their developmental level and aptitudes

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

TED X Talk- My Journey to Education Activism

    The Making of an Education Catastrophe- One  Activist’s Journey of Discovery

   An Education Catastrophe  has descended upon the Nation’s public schools, while most of the public has been asleep. It is making our children hate school, our best teachers leave the profession, and is maximizing inequality in our schools and the larger society. It is totally bi-partisan, and is as visible in Democratic states like New York and Connecticut as in Republican states like Indiana and North Carolina. It bears the imprint of President Obama as well as former President Bush, and it supported by the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country

What I am going to say here is very personal. I am going to tell the story of my own evolution as an education activist- about how a college professor whose field is African American history discovered that public schools and public school teachers were under attack, and decided to step forward in defense of both.

My journey into education activism began  in the Spring of 2003  when I was asked to start an oral history project documenting the African American presence in Bronx Neighborhoods, which had been neglected by scholars of Bronx History as well as African American History in New York City.  The project was embraced by scores of community residents, who wanted to tell  stories that defied common stereotypes  about Black neighborhoods in the Bronx being places of menace and danger.  I found myself conducting as many as three interviews a week during the first two years of the project and before I knew it a portrait was emerging of the Bronx as a place of hope and opportunity for African Americans , West Indians  and Puerto Ricans living in crowded Harlem neighborhoods in the 1930’s and 1940’s- a place where they could find safer streets, better housing and better educational opportunities for their children. This was a story that had never been told in print or broadcast media and was completely absent from the few existing books on Bronx history. It was an inspiring and important story of community building, but there was one feature of it that seemed to capture everyone’s imagination, the creation of an incredible live music culture in two multiethnic Bronx neighborhoods, Morrisania and Hunts Point, which included jazz,  Afro Cuban music,  doo wop and rhythm and blues.  The mixture of three cultural traditions, the African American, the West Indian, and the Latin Carribbean,   inspired extraordinary musical creativity, present in live form in  clubs and theaters, schools and churches, and  occasionally in apartments and on street corners.  What we came across was truly incredible:  Here were two neighborhoods in the Bronx, largely Black and Latino, with a few remaining Jewish and Italian residents, who  contributed   as much or more to American popular music as any places in the country.
    When we started publishing our findings and having articles written about our research in New York’s major newspapers,  our work was discovered and seized upon by   teachers and administrators in Bronx schools as something that could be incorporated into their curriculum and inspire their students, many of whom had a negative self image because they lived in the Bronx. When this happened, my life began to change, and quickly.  First, I was invited to make presentations to meetings of social studies teachers working in Bronx high schools and middle schools ; then to offer musical walking tours of the neighborhoods we studied to teachers  participating in Teaching American History projects; and finally, and most astonishingly, I was invited to train the staffs of 13 Bronx schools in how to organize community history projects. This latter initiative was a huge undertaking. Over a period of two months in the spring of 2006 , I was asked to supervise  half day training sessions in all thirteen schools and regularly visit them while them while they drew parents, grandparents, school aides, security guards, and church and community leaders into student research projects, heavily dependent on oral histories, that were going to culminate in day long community history festivals at the end of April.
     What took place in those schools provided some of the most inspiring moments I had had in a forty year career as a historian and history teacher. The teachers and principals in these Bronx schools,  many of whom had grown up in the neighborhoods they taught in, showed incredible creativity in bringing neighborhood history to life in their classrooms. With the help of students and parents, they organized food festivals; choreographed dances and plays; produced documentary films, created wall exhibits and collections of memorabilia, put together short books of essays and poetry.  One school, PS 140 in Morrisania,  actually created a permanent “Old School Museum” to honor neighborhood traditions in their building, and every school invited neighborhood residents on festival day to see what their students had accomplished.
     As an historian, this was a dream come true.  Research I had done had been brought to life in the most concrete and meaningful form, to tens of thousands of people by a group of amazing teachers and school administrators. I was looking forward to expanding on these projects in coming years as our research turned to new subjects, such as African immigration in the Bronx.
    But then, the boom was lowered on the teachers and principals in Bronx schools with startling suddenness, first through rating systems that forced them to cancel any programs that took time away from standardized tests, and then, when further escalated, turned them into places of stress and fear where there was no room for community history, and precious little for activities that students enjoyed like art, music, recess and school trips.
      The first sign of the test obsession that was to  have such negative consequences came when the New York City Department of Education decided to create  and publish letter grades for public schools based on a rating system developed by statisticians working under a Columbia Law School Professor named James Leibman who became the school system’s first “Accountability Officer.”   Leibman’s goal in doing this was in the words of the New York Times to help the city” get rid of incorrigibly deadbeat principals and underperforming city schools”  but he managed to create a rating system that was both wildly inaccurate  and deeply demoralizing to the city’s principals and teachers. One sign of this was that the elementary school where my wife was principal, widely considered one of the five best elementary schools in the city, got a “B” rating, but what infuriated me the most was that the best inner city school I had ever spent time in PS 140, the school which had created the Old School Museum, and whose Principal Paul Cannon spent 7 days a week in the school, was giving a rating of “C”

     For me, the C rating given PS 140 was a huge wake up call.  Somehow, number crunchers with no experience on the ground in schools  were seizing control of education policy  and in the name of “shaking up the system” were unfairly attacking and stigmatizing some of the best educators in the system.  Almost every day School Chancellor Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg were quoted defending the ratings and denouncing  the staffs of the schools getting low grades- which included many of the schools in the Bronx I worked with- as ‘failing.”

      Things got even worse a year later after Barack Obama was elected President.  Not only did the President unveil a new education policy, Race to the Top, which required States receiving federal funds to close schools designated as failing,  and remove half their staffs, he publicly praised a Rhode Island Superintendent for firing the entire teaching staff of Central Falls HS in Rhode Island who refused to agree to procedures that broke their union contract
   The tone and substance of President Obama’s initiative led Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg to ratchet up their “anti-teacher rhetoric” and close large number of schools they had designated as “failing.”  Soon, a wave of demoralization and despair began to sweep through the staffs of the great Bronx schools I had worked in.  Everyone was depressed. Everyone was afraid to speak out. I decided I could be silent no longer. I wrote a piece called “In Defense of Public School Teachers” and posted it on my blog. It went viral. Teachers all over the city and all over the nation wrote me to thank me for speaking out. They begged me to tell the world what about the awful things happening to teachers all over the country.   I was so moved by this that I decided to start a “Teachers Talk Back Project”   that produced  videos of teachers willing to tell their stories and created a list serve where teachers could speak their mind under their own or assumed names
      By now, I was so deluged with heartbreaking comments from teachers about how people with no classroom experience were shaping education policy and making it impossible to do their jobs that I was in a constant state of agitation. I could not stop writing about what I was learning, and could not stop telling teachers stories and before long I was contacted by leaders of two education activist organization- Save Our Schools- and United Opt Out- to speak at events they sponsored in Washington.
     Meanwhile, things in Bronx schools kept getting worse and worse.  By 2010, as schools started closing en masse in Bronx neighborhoods, often replaced by charter schools, and as the fear of closing hung over every school that remained open.- I was no longer being invited to do History projects in Bronx schools,- the public schools were afraid to devote time to them, the charter schools weren’t interested. With “accountability” being the  obsession of School Reformers local, state and national-testing and test prep had become the be all and the end  of education in Bronx. Community history was a luxury no public school felt it could afford.
      But a decline in the richness of the curriculum s was not to be the worst thing that I observed in Bronx Schools. As New York City, in order to receive of Race to the Top funding, began rate teachers as well as schools on the basis of student test scores, people began coming to me with horror stories that indicated  that high stakes testing was starting to undermine the mental, and in some cases the physical health of Bronx teachers and students.  A little more than  a year ago, a chapter chair of a elementary school near Fordham which was in danger of closing told me that a third of the teachers in his school were under medication for Depression and anxiety. When I raised this issue with other teachers I knew in the Bronx, they told me that such conditions were widespread in every school they knew. The pressure on teachers had become intolerable because they all feared for their jobs.
    Worse yet, the pressures had been transferred to their students. All over the Bronx,  I was hearing, recess and after schools programs were being used for test prep rather than exercise and play because everyone was terrified by the consequences if test scores went down.  Doing that anywhere approaches the definition of child abuse- doing it in the borough with the highest  child obesity rates in the nation approaches cruel and unusual punishment. I began shouting this from the rooftops! Does anyone realize what we are doing to these children? Does Michelle Obama realize that while she is trying to fight Child Obesity through better diet and more exercise, her husband’s Race to the Top policies  are undermining her efforts by assuring that non-stop test prep is all that goes on in schools in the nation’s poorest communities?
    But as it turned out, I was wrong about one thing. The destructive consequences of high stakes testing and test driven teacher ratings weren’t only being felt in high needs school districts, they were being experienced  by schools in almost every demographic profile. I learned this in April of last year when I became involved as an advocate and a speaker for a parent led test revolt that emerged in New York State.  In that capacity, I met parents all over Long Island whose children had started to hate school, and in some cases, were experiencing clinical levels of stress because they were being forced to take tests that were developmentally inappropriate or because non stop testing had pushed out everything enjoyable from their school experience.  They were enraged that schools that worked well had become fear-filled places, that teachers and students  were miserable, and that things were about to get much, much worse as all tests were to be aligned to the Common Core Standards.  Worse yet they said- no one was listening to them. The politicians  had bought into to the idea that schools were failing and that testing and more testing was the only way to improve them. The only way to stop them, they had become convinced, was to stop the system in its tracks-to have their children opt out and refuse to take the tests.
     I was deeply moved by the activism of these mostly white, middle class suburban parents and teachers.  From my vantage point in the Bronx, I had underestimated the depth and breadth of the Educational Catastrophe descending on the nation. Teachers everywhere were being driven out of their jobs and stripped of their autonomy and creativity. Children everywhere were being deluged with tests, and subjected to a one size fits all curriculum that, in all too many instances, smothered their unique talents and aptitudes. And rather than backing off in the face of these unhappy consequences, the nation’s policy makers were ratcheting up the stress levels on students, teachers and families by imposing an untested , poorly formulated set of Common Core Standards on school districts throughout the nation with breakneck speed.
  To give some idea of what kind of things are happening to students as a result of high stakes testing, and the evaluation of teachers, schools and school districts based on test results, I want to share with you a story out of suburban Long Island that I was old just last week. If you multiply it by ten thousand, it will give you a good idea of what is happening every day to children in the nation’s public schools.
Kyle is a 7th grader this year. Kyle's mom says Kyle has always had difficulty mastering core subjects but his grades have been passable. He is brilliant in some things. She says he can put together/take apart anything. He has fixed TVs, and can repair most anything around the house. At school, while his grades remained mediocre in core subjects, he excelled in band and tech. In fact, the only way his mom could persuade Kyle to keep up his efforts in the other subjects was the carrot of band and tech. Kyle went to school because of band and tech. Well, this past September, the school advised Kyle's mom that because Kyle did so poorly on the assessments he is mandated to attended double periods of math and English. They took the place of band and tech. Kyle's mom called me crying, not knowing what to do, because now Kyle is refusing to go to school.”
   I don’t know about you, but I can’t live with this happening to so many of our nation’s children. I am going to speak up, and speak out until the Testing madness is pushed out of our public schools and until we built a school experience around what empowers and engages children and makes teachers want to remain in their jobs for life.
  Four months ago, My Friends and I  created an organization which fights for just those things. It’s called the Badass Teachers Association,and it now stands 31,000 strong with local organizations  in every state.   We invite you to join us in the effort to push back the  Test Regime and make our schools a place where teachers love to work and students love to learn.

I will end my speech by doing something I learned while doing History Projects in Bronx Schools- Rapping. Here is a little jam I wrote for the Connecticut wing of the Badass Teacher Association- the Connecticut BATS

I’m proud to join Connecticut BATS
In a state where Deformers wear many hats
From Dr Steve Perry to Governor Malloy
Teaching and learning is what they destroy
Through funding charters and a Special Master
They undermine great teachers and sow disaster
They think testing is the way to put Students first
While the creative spirit is dying of thirst
But the BATS in this state won’t let them win
For their love for  students comes from deep within
They fight for the  arts, the right to play and dream
And refuse to let schools become a Big Money Scheme


Conditions Are Ideal for an Education Revolt in New York State!

We have the ideal conditions for an Education Revolt in New York State. We have education leaders of limited stature and experience- Merryl Tisch and John King- working under a Governor who is accustomed to people obeying his orders without question, trying to dictate education policy in a state filled with excellent public schools, strong teacher unions, and highly sophisticated, politically savvy parents. Watch out America, New York is going to lead the way in protests against excessive testing and mindless implementation of the Common Core StandardsII

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Rise of the Badass Teachers Association- A Brief History

The Badass Teachers Association began as a modest attempt to capitalize on the energy of a parent led test revolt that took place in New York during the Spring of 2013 and turned, unexpectedly into a huge protest movement by teachers across the nation

In April of this year, about 10,000 families decided to opt their children out of state tests in New York. One of the strongest centers of this movement was in Long Island, where conservative and libertarian parents joined with liberal and progressive parents to protest the huge amount of testing in local schools, which they thought were making good schools worse and creating near abusive levels of stress for children and families.

As an education activist whose university affiliation appeared to give legitimacy to the protest, I was invited to speak at several rallies sponsored by one of the groups formed in this course of the New York Test Revolt- Parents and Teachers Against the Common Core- and was blown away by how those holding differing views on non-education issues were able to work together and even began liking one another. I made friends with some of the organizers of PTACC and together we formed a Facebook group called "The Badass Parents Association" to capitalize on this energy, and the new "multipartisan approach." In a month, we attracted about 300 members and were really proud of ourselves for drawing in that number of people!

Then, in mid June, one of the people I met through the Badass Parents group, an education activist from Oklahoma named Priscilla Sanstead, suggested we form a Badass Teachers Association Facebook page to help recruit teachers to support parents and students protesting high stakes testing. What happened next absolutely stunned us! We formed the group at 4:30 PM on Friday June 14, and by Saturday night, we had 300 members, as much as the Badass Parents group had acquired in a month and these teachers were coming from all over the country.

In response to this unexpected influx, one of the first people who had joined the group, a brilliant teacher and parent activist named Marla Massey Kilfoyle who had been one of the leaders of the Long Island Test Revolt, suggested we organize a recruiting contest and declare the winner "Badass Teacher of the Month." I set up the contest for between 4 and 5 PM on Sunday June 16 and the results were even more astonishing. More than 1000 people were recruited into the group in that one hour!! Clearly, the name- which implied that teachers throughout the nation were FED UP with how they were being treated by the press, the public, and leaders of both parties- was touching a huge chord  with teachers everywhere. 

Over next week, the group started adding nearly a thousand people a day and .
the three of us at the center of this movement- me, Priscilla and Marla- tried to make sense of what was happening and steer it in a constructive direction. Why was this outpouring of rage and defiance coming now?. The first reason was that all over the country, teachers were under attack- their lessons were being scripted, their careers were being threatened by test based evaluation systems; they were forced to teach in ways that undermined their autonomy and professional integrity. But most important, the large portion of the nation's teachers that had considered themselves Democrats or liberals had become totally disillusioned with the Obama Administration's Education policies, which were as much or more responsible for the policies that were making their lives miserable daily as the Bush Administration had been. They felt totally isolated and alone- without ANY friends in high places- and they were ready to fight back

Our job, we quickly concluded, was to give them an organizational structure capable of doing that. Fortunately, my two co-founders were organizational geniuses, and many of the teachers who joined the group were computer savvy, artistically talented and expert at using social media. While I wrote public pronouncements to explain why the group had grown so fast, my colleagues created a board of administrators to run the organization and set policy, and developed a network of state BAT organizations capable of holding meetings and launching protests on the ground. And we encouraged all our members to use multimedia techniques- especially memes and music videos- to get the group's message across creatively.

Within a month, we had recruited close to 20,000 members and were starting organize actions and warn those most responsible for anti-teacher policies and statements-- Michelle Rhee, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates etc- that there was a new militant teacher group that was coming after them. We were so effective in this- through social media as well as traditional means of protest- that we were publicly endorsed by the nation's most important education historic and critic, Diane Ravitch.

Fast forward to the present. We are now a little over four months old and show no signs of falling apart. We have nearly 31,000 members, launch actions every week, and are planning a Teachers March on Washington on July 28 with plans to have 50,000 angry teachers surrounding the US Department of Education

There is nothing accidental about our growth. America's teachers are tired of being the favorite punching bags of leaders of both political parties and are- through this group- saying "Enough is Enough."

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What We Are Doing To Vulnerable Children in New York State with the Insane Levels of Testing.

(Told to Me By Parent Activist Deborah Lang)

Elwood School District, Elwood Middle School, Greenlawn, NY (near Huntington)

Kyle is a 7th grader this year. Kyle's mom says Kyle has always had difficulty mastering core subjects but his grades have been passable. He is brilliant in some things. She says he can put together/take apart anything. He has fixed TVs, and can repair most anything around the house. At school, while his grades remained mediocre in core subjects, he excelled in band and tech. In fact, the only way his mom could persuade Kyle to keep up his efforts in the other subjects was the carrot of band and tech. Kyle went to school because of band and tech.
Well, this past September, the school advised Kyle's mom that because Kyle did so poorly on the assessments he is mandated to attended double periods of math and English. They took the place of band and tech. Kyle's mom called me crying, not knowing what to do, because now Kyle is refusing to go to school.

Testing has morphed into child abuse for some of our vulnerable children, especially when those tests are used to grade teachers, schools and entire school districts

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Tide is Turning Against Test Driven School Reform

Test Driven School Reform, and the protocols for teacher evaluation it has brought in its wake, are finally coming under critical scrutiny from the general public, portions of the media, and some elected officials. When the full story comes out, the nation will discover that the policies that have been in place since No Child Left Behind, and ratcheted up even further by Race to the Top, have been damaging and demoralizing in the extreme. Eventually, the policies will be repudiated and the pendulum will swing back to policies that make students enjoy school and teachers want to stay in their jobs for long periods of time, but before that happens a generation of students will have been beaten down and a huge cohort of great teachers driven out of the profession. The faster we Stop the Madness, the less damage will be done. But no matter what, this is a national catastrophe of monumental proportions.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why Christopher Wallace- aka Notorious B.I.G- Should Have A Street Corner in Brooklyn Named After Him

To Community Board 2

RE: Proposal to Name the Corner of Fulton Street and St James Place after Christopher Wallace

Dear Community Board Two:

As a scholar of African American History, and American Popular Culture, who teaches three graduate and undergraduate courses at Fordham University which examine Hip Hop in the United States as both popular music and social commentary, I would strongly endorse the proposal to name the corner of Fulton Street and St James Place in honor of Christopher Wallace, known to tens of millions of Hip Hip fans around the world as Notorious B.I.G and Biggie Smalls..

Christopher Wallace is widely considered to be one of the five most important Hip Hop artists of all time, and perhaps its most inventive lyricist. His music helped pave the way for Hip Hop's global popularity and he was an important influence on the life of of Shawn Carter, also known as JZ, who has been a major force in Brooklyn's economic development.

But what Christopher Wallace will be best known for is story telling and social commentary. No musical artist expressed more eloquently and poignantly the experience of growing up amidst the chaos produced by the crack epidemic in the late 80's and 90's and none inspired more young people growing up in poverty to maintain the hope that they could escape crack's deadly embrace, But Biggie did more than inspire young people who grew up in the same circumstances as he did. He brought haunting portraits of the lives deformed by racial and economic inequality into the lives of millions, perhaps tens of millions of young people who did not live in ghettoes or experience drug epidemics first hand.

When scholars 200 years from now try to understand the impact of the crack epidemic on inner city America, they will turn to Biggie's songs as a window into that experience. As will scholars trying to understand why hip hop has become the voice of disfranchised youth throughout the world

Biggie Smalls is one of the most important cultural figures ever to come out of Brooklyn- equal in importance in his musical genre to Barbara Streisand in hers

He deserves to have a corner named after him. His voice, reminding us to remember the most marginalized in our midst, should not be forgotten


Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University

Monday, October 14, 2013

Official Statement of the Badass Teachers Association Calling For Resignation of New York State Education Commissioner John King

The BadAss Teachers Association (BATs), on behalf of its 30,000 members, is hereby calling for the resignation of NYS Commissioner of Education John King.
On October 10th, The New York State PTA sponsored a forum on the Common Core in Poughkeepsie, New York.
NYSED Commissioner John King was the scheduled speaker and parents, teachers, and concerned community members gathered to have an opportunity to make their voices heard. Rather than getting time to make their points and state their concerns, the audience was relegated to a mere 23 minutes of commentary. The anger of the crowd was palpable.
Because the audience did not respond as per Mr. King’s dictatorial expectations, he and the PTA have cancelled all upcoming forums.
“I was looking forward to engaging in a dialogue with parents across the state. I was eagerly anticipating answering questions from parents about the Common Core and other reforms we’re moving ahead with in New York State. Unfortunately, the forums sponsored by the New York State PTA have been co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to “dominate” the questions and manipulate the forum.”
Let us be clear: BATs represent no special interests other than children, teachers, and parents. Rather, it is Commissioner King who serves special interest groups, the most notable being Pearson, the company that produces most of the tests being administered in New York State

We are calling on all elected officials, including Governor Cuomo, the National, State, and Local PTAs, Union leadership, parents, teachers, and community members to join us in demanding that Commissioner King step down and resign immediately from his position of Commissioner of Education of the State of New York.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Why Education Has Gone Off the Deep End in New York State

If you are wondering why education policy in New York State has taken a turn to the abusive and absurd, consider the following chain of command 

Bill Gates-Never Taught a Day in his Life
Arne Duncan-Never Taught a Day in his Life
Andrew Cuomo- Never Taught a Day in his Life
John King--Taught one Year

Nuff Said!!!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A School Counselor's Lament ( Anonymous)

A person working in the public schools is trying to educate himself on data sharing so he spoke to the person in charge of data. He asked some questions and the data person said, "What's the big deal? We have been sending the data for years. This is nothing new." He then asked why we send it and she replied "to protect kids who move from state to state so their data will follow." He then asked well if data is so easily shared between states, how come schools spend hours trying to get data about a student who moved into their district from a neighboring town. Why is that so difficult? The data person couldn't answer that question. It was clear the new In Bloom system didn't apply to that situation. Which raised an interesting question for the teacher who was trying to educate himself. If the data isn't accessible to the people who actually need it to make their own schools run better, then what is it for?
And then Exxon sends a message to all mobile users, "Exxon supports the common core." IT ALL BECOMES CRYSTAL CLEAR! This data if for corporations and the government, not to help teachers and school personnel do a better job.

Call for the Resignation of New York Education Commissioner John King

Hello Commissioner King: 

Children do not belong to the government. They are not a future labor force for Exxon Mobil, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart. They are autonomous individuals who, for a certain portion of their lives, are in the care of teachers and school administrators and who should be treated with love, respect and an understanding of their unique aptitudes and needs. Information about their academic performance is something to be shared with parents and caretakers, so as to help them do better, not put into a national data base. It is the needs of children and families that should be foremost in shaping what takes place in schools; not the country's global economic position or the needs of its largest corporations. What you are supporting represents an erosion of democratic traditions, as well as a prescription for making the schools of New York State a place of fear and stress. 

It is time for you to resign.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Notorious Phd Enters the Mind of Bill Gates

"We have 19th Century Schools for 21st Century Conditions. If we don't radically transform the way schools are managed and teachers are monitored, our country will lose its position as a global leader. We have to move quickly before the opposition builds and apply reforms quickly and ruthlessly. Yes, we will drive the best veteran teachers out of the profession, but we will recruit talented young teachers because their other job prospects are so grim. Yes, we will demoralize a generation of students who can't adapt to the more demanding standards, but that is the collateral damage we have to accept. In fifteen years, when the smoke has cleared, we will have a world class education system in every state of the union, even in high poverty neighborhoods. We cannot falter in our mission to implant these Reforms. The future of our nation is at stake"

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Test Related Stress in the Schools of New York State- Reed it and Weep

Test Related Stress in the Schools of New York State- Read it and Weep

Mary Calamia
about an hour ago near Oceanside · 
Statement for New York State Assembly Education Forum
October 7, 2013 at 10:14pm
Statement for New York State Assembly Education Forum
Brentwood, New York
October 10, 2013

I am a licensed clinical social worker in New York State and have been providing psychotherapy services since 1995. I work with parents, teachers, and students from all socioeconomic backgrounds representing more than 20 different school districts in Suffolk County. Almost half of my caseload consists of teachers.

In the summer of 2012, my elementary school teachers began to report increased anxiety over having to learn two entirely new curricula for Math and ELA. I soon learned that school districts across the board were completely dismantling the current curricula and replacing them with something more scripted, emphasizing “one size fits all” and taking any imagination and innovation out of the hands of the teachers.

In the fall of 2012, I started to receive an inordinate number of student referrals from several different school districts. I was being referred a large number of honors students—mostly 8th graders.The kids were self-mutilating—cutting themselves with sharp objects and burning themselves with cigarettes. My phone never stopped ringing.

What was prompting this increase in self-mutilating behavior? Why now?

The answer I received from every single teenager was the same. “I can’t handle the pressure. It’s too much work.”

I also started to receive more calls referring elementary school students who were refusing to go to school. They said they felt “stupid” and school was “too hard.” They were throwing tantrums, begging to stay home, and upset even to the point of vomiting.

I was also hearing from parents about kids bringing home homework that the parents didn’t understand and they couldn’t help their children to complete. I was alarmed to hear that in some cases there were no textbooks for the parents to peruse and they had no idea what their children were learning.

My teachers were reporting a startling level of anxiety and depression. For the first time, I heard the term “Common Core” and I became awakened to a new set of standards that all schools were to adhere to—standards that we now say “set the bar so high, anyone can walk right under them.”

Everyone was talking about “The Tests.” As the school year progressed and “The Tests” loomed, my patients began to report increased self-mutilating behaviors, insomnia, panic attacks, loss of appetite, depressed mood, and in one case, suicidal thoughts that resulted in a 2-week hospital stay for an adolescent.

I do not know of any formal studies that connect these symptoms directly to the Common Core, but I do not think we need to sacrifice an entire generation of children just so we can find a correlation.

The Common Core and high stakes testing create a hostile working environment for teachers, thus becoming a hostile learning environment for students. The level of anxiety I am seeing in teachers can only trickle down to the students. Everyone I see is describing a palpable level of tension in the schools.

The Common Core standards do not account for societal problems. When I first learned about APPR and high stakes testing, my first thought was, “Who is going to rate the parents?”

I see children and teenagers who are exhausted, running from activity to activity, living on fast food, then texting, using social media, and playing games well into the wee hours of the morning on school nights.

We also have children taking cell phones right into the classrooms, “tweeting” and texting each other throughout the day. We have parents—yes PARENTS—who are sending their children text messages during school hours. 

Let’s add in the bullying and cyberbullying that torments and preoccupies millions of school children even to the point of suicide. Add to that an interminable drug problem.

These are only some of the variables affecting student performance that are outside of the teachers’ control. Yet the SED holds them accountable, substituting innovation and individualism with cookie-cutter standards, believing this will fix our schools.

We cannot regulate biology. Young children are simply not wired to engage in the type of critical thinking that the Common Core calls for. That would require a fully developed prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is not fully functional until early adulthood. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for critical thinking, rational decision-making, and abstract thinking—all things the Common Core demands prematurely.

We teach children to succeed then give them pre-assessments on material they have never seen and tell them it’s okay to fail. Children are not equipped to resolve the mixed message this presents.

Last spring, a 6-year-old who encountered a multiplication sign on the NWEA first grade math exam asked the teacher what it was. The teacher was not allowed to help him and told him to just do his best to answer.From that point on, the student’s test performance went downhill. Not only couldn’t the student shake off the unfamiliar symbol, he also couldn’t believe his teacher wouldn’t help him.

Common Core requires children to read informational texts that are owned by a handful of corporations. Lacking any filter to distinguish good information from bad, children will readily absorb whatever text is put in front of them as gospel. So, for example, when we give children a textbook that explains the second amendment in these terms: "The people have a right to keep and bear arms in a state militia," they will look no further for clarification.

We are asking children to write critically, using emotionally charged language to “persuade” rather than inform. Lacking a functional prefrontal cortex, a child will tap into their limbic system, a set of primitive brain structures involved in basic human emotions, fear and anger being foremost. So when we are asking young children to use emotionally charged language, we are actually asking them to fuel their persuasiveness with fear and anger. They are not capable of the judgment required to temper this with reason and logic.

So we have abandoned innovative teaching and instead “teach to the tests,” the dreaded exams that had students, parents and teachers in a complete anxiety state last spring. These tests do not measure learning—what they really measure is endurance and resilience. Only a child who can sit and focus for 90 minutes can succeed. The child who can bounce back after one grueling day of testing and do it all over again the next day has an even better chance.

A recent Cornell University study revealed that students who were overly stressed while preparing for high stakes exams performed worse than students who experienced less stress during the test preparation period. Their prefrontal cortexes—the same parts of the brain that we are prematurely trying to engage in our youngsters—were under-performing.

We are dealing with real people’s lives here. Allow me introduce you to some of them:

…an entire third grade class that spent the rest of the day sobbing after just one testing session,

…a 2nd grader who witnessed this and is now refusing to attend the 3rd grade—this 7-year-old is now being evaluated for psychotropic medication just to go to school,

…two 8-year-olds who opted out of the ELA exam and were publicly denied cookies when the teacher gave them to the rest of her third grade class,

…the teacher who, under duress, felt compelled to do such a thing,

…a sixth grader who once aspired to be a writer but now hates it because they “do it all day long—even in math,”

…a mother who has to leave work because her child is hysterical over his math homework and his CPA grandfather doesn’t even understand it,

…and countless other children who dread going to school, feel “stupid" and "like failures," and are now completely turned off to education.

I will conclude by adding this thought. Our country became a superpower on the backs of men and women who studied in one-room schoolhouses.I do not think it takes a great deal of technology or corporate and government involvement for kids to succeed. We need to rethink the Common Core and the associated high stakes testing and get back to the business of educating our children in a safe, healthy, and productive manner"

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Irreverent Take on APPR in New York State!

Irreverent  Take on  APPR  iNew  York State!  Hilarious!!!

The Downside of Making Teaching A Revolving Door Profession

One of the greatest thrills of my life as a teacher has been the relationships I have been able to maintain with my former students. I experienced this first hand during the protest BATS and the UFT MORE Caucus held last Sunday outside Education Nation. The person who connected me to the organizer of the protest- Laurel Sturt- was one of the first students I taught at Fordham when I came there in 1970, Kathy Palmer! Kathy, who is now a Science teacher in a Bronx public school, came to the demonstration with her grandson, and it felt just like old times when we attended anti-war demonstrations together "back in the day." And this is not unique. I still work closely with one of Kathy's best friends from those days, Sally Dunford, also a former student, who is now a housing organizer and advocate in the Bronx. And both Kathy and Sally often help my current students with their research projects. THIS is the kind of cultural and social capital you erase when you make teaching a revolving door profession. Teachers who love their jobs and stay in them end up becoming an important resource in the lives of former students, and build networks which funnel information and resources to current students.

But those teachers are being driven out of our schools by the toxic, test obsessed atmosphere School Reformers have created.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

When Coercion and Intimidation Dictate Education Policy-Democracy Withers

The rapid growth of the Opt-Out movement, and the accompanying growth of mass resistance to high stakes testing, has revealed the extraordinary levels of intimidation and coercion that have accompanied the implementation of current education policies. Not only have teachers and school administrators who question current levels of testing been threatened with termination, especially if they encourage parents to opt their children out of tests, but opting out families have been told that they risk consequences ranging from being reported to Child Services to having their children denied promotion, access to Special Needs services, placement in gifted programs, or ability go on school trips or participate in school sports and music programs. 

But it is not just school officials on the federal, state or local level, who are engaged in such intimidation, it is leaders of voluntary organizations. In several states, including New York, local PTA's are being told by their state PTA organizations that they are not allowed to have speakers at their events who recommend opting out of state tests. 

Where, you ask, is freedom of speech? Where is the freedom of school professionals to speak their mind on critical education policy issues? Where is the ability of parents to make decisions about their child's education without being threatened or denied access to critical resources - which by the way are funded by their own taxes

When we put this draconian treatment of those questioning test policies side by side with the takeover of whole school districts by state governments, the imposition of Mayoral control of public schools, and the mass closing of public schools over the protests of community residents in cities like New York and Chicago, we see that when it come to Education Policy, elites have decided that democracy, both procedural and substantive, has become a luxury we can no longer afford. Tellingly, this is true whether one lives in an inner city neighborhood or a middle income suburb!

Who is responsible for this? The culprits are many, but I would suggest that when examines Education policy, the first place to look would be whether the organization responsible for the intimidation is taking funds from two sources- the US Department of Education, and the Gates Foundation. The collusion of the two- reflecting the conflation of centralized government power with centralized corporate power- suggests the depth of the threat we face to popular democracy in this country, and not only in education.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Three Simple Arguments Against Common Core That Work Whether You Are Left Right Or Center

Three simple arguments against Common Core ( that work whether you come from the Left, Right, or Center)

1. CCSS tests and assessments cost huge amounts of money, and draw funds away from things that make school enjoyable and exciting like art, music, hands on science, and physical education.

2 . CCSS tests discriminate against huge groups of children- particularly Special Needs Students and English Language Learners- for whom the standards are developmentally inappropriate.

3  The "one size fits all" model CCSS requires prevents investing in vocational and technical programs that we desperately need to create jobs for our young people in a fast changing economy

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Moving from Defense to Offense in the Battle against the Test Machine

Moving from Defense to Offense in the Battle against the Test Machine

Friends! I am a coach as much as a teacher and my coach's instinct tells me it is time to move from defense to offense in the battle to push back the Test Machine and Save our Public Schools.

1. Take it to the streets. Participate in every march and demonstration against Corporate Education Reform taking place in your communit...y. For me, this means joining the protest against Education Nation at the NY Public library on Sunday. It also means mobilizing for the teachers March on Washington on July 28.

2. Support all forms of Test Resistance from Opting Out to returning Test Scores. As teachers, we may not be able to do this directly, but as parents and grandparents, we have the legal right to do so.

3. Bombard those responsible for Teacher and Child Abuse with tweets and emails letting them know you are watching them and holding them personally responsible for these destructive policies. For me, this means tweeting Arne Duncan, and John King, our star education commissioner, Every Single Day until they are forced out of office

4. Attend every public hearing you can in your area where education policy is being debated and make your voice heard! It can be a sponsored by city council, a state legislature or a local school board, make sure you are there and bring other BATS!

5. Identify and support Anti-Testing, Anti-Common Core and Pro-Teacher candidates, irrespective of Party affiliation, and work to get them elected. This, along with with the four tactics listed above, will send a powerful message to elected officials that support for Corporate Education Reform may hurt your career more than help it

And while you are doing these things keep talking- to friends, colleagues, neighbors, family members.

We can stop the Madness! Yes, we really can.