Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Restore Recess Party New York State- Education Program REVISED!

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, more school closings, 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
15. Exempt special needs students from all state tests and require that they get instruction appropriate to their developmental level and aptitudes.
16. Guarantee certified librarians in all schools to help students research, think critically, read widely and become informed citizens.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Standing Up for Children and for Freedom of Speech

As we approach the New Year, I am more and more grateful for the existence of BATS United Opt Out and Lace to the Top. Every day, I read, or am sent, stories of teachers being intimidated by administrators for speaking out against new curricula and evaluation methods, and micromanaged to the point that all joy departs from their jobs. Along with these come stories of children tested to the point of humiliation, and of families threatened for daring to opt their children out of excessive or developmentally inappropriate tests, or even asking questions about these tests.

Our public schools have never been perfect, and in some parts of the nation they have been troubled, but never has intimidation and the suppression of free speech become so epidemic in school districts throughout the nation, be they rural, suburban or urban, low, moderate or high performing. And the situation is even worse most of the charter schools which are presented as an alternative to public ones.

This poisonous culture of intimidation is not just a threat to public education, it is a threat to democracy itself. The imposition of Common Core Standards is a perfect example of this. They have been forced upon school districts throughout the nation without any field testing, without discussion, and above all without dissent. Those who raise questions are attacked, marginalized, sometimes threatened with loss of employment.

There is no polite way to fight this. It must be resisted fiercely, by people willing to speak out in and if necessary disrupt meetings, engage in marches, demonstrations and strikes, vote out candidates who support the testing and intimidation machine, and take actions to disrupt the flow of data that makes the system run.

It needs people who are bold, disruptive, and impolite- in a word BADASS.

There are tens of thousands of us now. There will be a lot more of us by the Summer.

There is no compromise with Abuse of Children and Violations of Freedom of Speech!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What BATS Do

Last night, somebody asked me what BATS do. Here is what I answered - with a few additions

1. Working to elect people to school boards, union offices, city councils and legislatures who stand strong for public education and rolling back testing.

2. Testifying at all of the institutions represented above when they hold public forums.

3.  Supporting ballot initiatives and petition drives which work toward rolling back testing and the implementation of Common Core, and protecting teachers pensions and collective bargaining rights.

4  Organizing marches, rallies, and when appropriate civil disobedience to defend teachers, students and public education.

5. Standing strong in behalf of Special Needs and ELL students and supporting communities fighting against schools closings and forced imposition of charter schools

6 Supporting the Opt out movement and protests against Common Core.

And Last but not least organizing a Teachers March on Washington which will also be a Festival and a Celebration of Teacher Creativity!!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Tough Questions to Ask About Charter Schools

The powers that be in the Democratic Party, including our President, have made Charter Schools their main vehicle for educational renewal in low income communities. And there are more than a few civil rights leaders, and elected officials in Black and Latino communities who view them as a chance to give families in their neighborhoods better educational opportunities. We have now had six years of strong support for Charters from the Obama Administration, backed up by Race to the Top Money.

It is time to ask some hard questions

In those years have we

1. Narrowed the gap in educational achievement by race and class, whether measured by test scores, high school graduation rates, college completion rates, or  more holistic measures?

2. Helped stabilize and improve inner city neighborhoods and protect them from gentrification, displacement and demographic inversion (moving the poor out of cities into the suburbs)?

3. Creating a stable force of talented committed teachers in inner city communities, many of whom live in the communities they teach in?

4. Helped reduce neighborhood and school violence or disrupt the school to prison pipeline?

If the answer to all or most of these questions is no, we-- meaning advocates for public education-- need to get in an honest conversation with the civil rights community about charters, understanding the basis of community support for these schools while respectfully pointing out how real estate interests, profiteers and ambitious politicians have taken what began as an experiment and turned it into a scorched earth policy that may well be doing more harm than good.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Child Abuse Imposed by Testing: Reflections of Bronx Teacher Chris Whitney

I had a student leave my classroom in an ambulance last year during the middle of a practice test. He was having an asthma attack brought on by panic. He kept saying, "I can't do this." As his teacher, I knew him. I knew that "school" was hard for him and he was trying his best. We all were trying our best to support him: his mom, brother, teachers old and new, staff at school, and the class... his community. Yet, it was not enough that day. I encouraged him to take the test, to keep going, but to what end? To engage with something I knew that he, and many other students were and are not ready to do? Except, the "expectation" is that all students must take the state exam by third grade - just 8 years old - and the "rigor" and "standards" keep going up every few years. More is expected from an earlier and earlier age. So, it becomes "necessary" to begin practice testing in second grade to "get the kids ready." 

We do not need to be holding each other accountable, instead, we should be finding a way to support each other. Federal education policy right now is punitive, developmentally inappropriate, and in the case of my student above - downright abusive. 

Carl Jung said, "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." I do not want to be the kind of teacher that "gets kids ready" for "college and careers." I want kids to feel the joy of being alive, I want kids to sing out in the middle of class "just because," I want kids to laugh, cry, and hold each other when things get hard, I want kids to know that they are not alone, and I want kids to feel love. Most of all, I just want to teach the joy of living... and state testing does not have any place in that vision.

School is hard for the students, families, and those that work there. Mothers say goodbye to their own flesh and blood, trusting that they will be safe and that they will come home at night. Many mothers then go to work to try to provide for their child. Work, lack of sleep, lack of time... repeat. Mother and child. Work. Rigor. Evaluation. Teachers work 12, 13, 14 hour days with little time to do much else besides plan, grade, teach, observe, collect data, enter data, communicate, set expectations... repeat. Forget it if you are BOTH a parent and teacher. Then, you have no time for yourself. Does it have to be this hard? No. A different world is not only possible, but it is necessary.

Ras Baraka for Mayor of Newark

Another important Mayoral election in the struggle to protect public education- this time in Newark- where Cami Anderson is the Superintendent and former Mayor Corey Booker worked arm in glove with NJ Gov Chris Christie to privatize local schools. The lead Mayoral candidate, Ras Baraka, is a public school principal and the most outspoken opponent of the Christie/Anderson strategy to turn Newark into an all charter district on the model of Detroit and New Orleans. A Baraka victory, coming on top of the DeBlasio victory in New York, will be a powerful sign that that grass roots forces are brewing in the Democratic Party to resist Race to the Top, and challenge the Bi Partisan effort- as enthusiastically supported by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as George Bush father and son- to privatize America's public schools. Keep your eye on the Newark race. This is another chance for teachers to change the course of history.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What Veteran Teachers Should Do to Protect Themselves From Being Driven out of the Profession

The more I talk to teachers around the country, the more I am convinced that School Reformers and Government Officials are making a systematic effort to drive the best veteran teachers out of the profession, both to save money and destroy the historic memory of a time when teachers had real autonomy and input into decisions about pedagogy and curriculum. The harassment and micromanagement such teachers experience is sometimes subtle, sometimes vicious, explicit and direct, but it is taking place in almost every school district in the country. If you are such a teacher, and the harassment has not yet reached intolerable proportions, I have two pieces of advice for you: 1. Start identifying lawyers in your area who handle employment issues, in case you need to retain one and 2. Start cultivating a political base among your former students ( if you teach in high school) and parents of former students ( if you teach in elementary school or middle school) who can get involved in putting pressure on the principal, the school district, and the press should you come under attack. The latter strategy is one I have followed in my University ever since I began teaching there in a field ( African American Studies) which administrators didn't respect and it has helped protect me, and my Department in very difficult moments. Of course universities are not directly comparable to public schools, but having a team of supporters ready to come to your defense is something that I think teachers have to do in this toxic political climate. Many great teachers already have these connections so I am not asking you to reinvent the wheel- just prepare to use your networks to prevent cynical administrators from driving you out of a job you love.

Video of Dr Mark Naison, Co-Founder of BATS, Calling for Resignation of NY State Regents Chair Merryl Tisch

Link to Video of Dr Mark Naison, Professor at Fordham University, and Co-Founder of Badass TEachers Association, Calling for the Resignation of Regents Chair Merryl Tisch at Common Core Forum in the Bronx


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The 2 False Principles on Which School Reform is Built

It never ceases to amaze me how many people who should know better buy the following dominant principles of the School Reform narrative

1. American schools as a whole are failing because American students are being pampered, both by their parents and teachers. We need to demand more of them to meet Global Competition

2. Schools in high poverty and moderate income neighborhoods are failing because they are filled with incompetent teachers who are protected by teachers unions. We get rid of those teachers, those schools will improve markedly.

Since these principles are espoused by politicians of both parties, and by most people in the media, they are accepted as given by the general public

The result- an orgy of Teacher Bashing, Union Busting, Privatization and Profit Taking which has undermined the teaching profession, destabilized neighborhoods, and filled schools with fear and stress without significantly improving the performance of the nation's schools, reducing child poverty, or retarding the growth of the prison industrial complex and  the concentration of wealth at the top levels of US Society.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Crisis in Public Education is Caused by Bad Policies, not Bad Teachers

Gates, Duncan, Broad et al say they want to attract more talented people to the teaching profession but they 

1. Support teacher evaluation frameworks combine humiliating observation protocols (Danielson rubric) with scripted curricula (Common Core) and use of student test scores in such a way that the most talented veteran teachers are leaving the profession in droves.

2. Give financial support for an alternative certification program, Teach for America, that recruits talented undergraduates not to become teachers for life, but to spend two years in low performing schools en route to other careers, some in education, many not, which offer much more money and much more power.

3. Refuse to speak out against states and municipalities that are looting teacher pension funds, thereby telling teachers present and future,  that their retirement security can be compromised every time there is a budget short fall.

The result of these policies- many of the best teachers leave; talented new teachers don't stay, and children across the nation are increasingly taught by people under the most severe stress-- and sometimes under a doctors care-- because they are scripted, micromanaged and treated with total disrespect.

There is indeed a Crisis in Public Education, but it is caused by Bad Policy, not Bad Teachers.

It is time to change course, and fast.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why A "One Size Fits All" Curriculum is a Catastrophe

Today, I had lunch in Riverhead with parent activist Al Wicklund. Our meeting symbolized the new alliances being forged in the anti-testing movement- the Cop and the Professor; the Marine Corps Veteran and former anti-war protester united in an effort and to prevent Common Core and uncontrolled testing from demoralizing students and driving out our best teachers.

The lunch was illuminating in many respects, but none was more dramatic than learning how many skills Al possessed that I have no aptitude for at all. Al who told me he struggled in high school academically, not only can fix any car, he can build a car from scratch and designed and built his home in the North Fork of Long Island without any help from contractors!

Now I am proud of my ability to write articles and books, both for scholarly and popular consumption, but the skills Al has are just as valuable and important as any I have. And it struck me. Shouldn't those skills be nurtured in our public schools? Shouldn't children who have those aptitudes for mechanics and design have their talents recognized? And should children who have these kind of talents, but struggle with reading and math, be made to feel school is one big exercise in humiliation because what they have difficult with is all that takes place there?

The Al Wicklunds of today deserve more than the one size fits all curriculum that is being forced into our public schools to the exclusion of all else. Maybe if they are given real opportunity to develop their talents, they can do what Al did, graduate from high school, practice a trade, and go to college in their 30's and 40's when they are ready to handle more academic pursuits.

If we don't change course fast, we are going to lose a generation of people of incredible talents whose aptitudes are being negated and rendered invisible in a curriculum that follows the narrowest definition of "College and Career Ready.".

When Common Core Is Viewed as "Just War"- The NY State Ed Dept's Politics of Cynicism

After seeing  NY State Regents Chair Merryl Tisch in action at the Bronx Common Core Forum without Commissioner King present, I am convinced the Regents are approaching the transition to Common Core as a "just war" in which they are willing to accept a very high number of casualties. The only way to stop them, since their own children will not be among the casualties, is to make the price of continuing the war even higher. The best ways to do that are the following:

1. Sharply increasing the number of children Opting out of State tests next spring.
2. Filing lawsuits against them for everything from illegal data sharing to promoting child abuse through excessive testing
3. Getting the medical community involved in examining the stress related trauma experienced by children as a result of high stakes testing and the Common Core standards.
4. Support candidates for office, and run candidates ourselves, who support a major overhaul of State Education policies, including removing current leadership of the Regents and State Education departments.
5. Deluging the media with stories of the stress experienced by children as young as 4 as a result of State Education Department policies.

We are already doing many of these things; but we have to ratchet up the pressure on all fronts

.  And we should also start holding fundraising parties to fund class action lawsuits

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Regents and Collateral Damage- Thoughts from a Bronx Common Core Forum

The amount of "collateral damage" those who call themselves "School Reformers" are willing to endure in their quest to prepare children ( including those not yet born)  to compete in the Global Economy never ceases to amaze me. They claim to be motivated by idealism and a passion for equity, yet they are totally unmoved by stories of real life hardship, difficulty and abuse inspired by policies , that, when all is said and done, are based on projections and abstractions that are immune to the rules of evidence. I saw that first hand at last night's Bronx Forum. Regent's chair Tisch actually claimed to be moved by some of the stories told by parents and teachers at the event, but was unwilling to to deviate from the State's larger plan even though she could provide no evidence that it was actually achieving any of her goals. All she could say is that " she realized that the first year would be rough, but rough edges accompany any reform." There is no "too much" in her projections of "how much" pain is acceptable when you forcibly impose Common Core standards onto school systems already traumatized by test based teacher evaluations. That is why Tisch, Commissioner King and most of the Regents should be forced to resign. There is no limit to the pain they are willing to subject your children to, pain their own children are immune to because they do not attend public school.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

“Change Course or Get Lost” Speech to Bronx Common Core Forum

Regent Chair Tisch: As a teacher and coach for more than 45 years, as a Professor of African American studies and History at Fordham, and as someone who spent years doing community history projects in Bronx schools before they were driven out by the misuse of testing to rate schools and teachers. I am here to ask for your resignation as Chair of the NY Board of Regents. 
Well before the recent imposition of Common Core aligned ELA and Math tests, policies you approved were destroying teaching and learning in Bronx schools. A toxic combination of school grades, test based teacher evaluations, school closings, and charter school co-locations had driven teacher morale in the Bronx to the lowest levels I have seen in my life time, lower even than in the heyday of the crack epidemic. As teaching to the test crowded out arts, sports, even recess and physical education, great teachers began leaving while countless others were under a doctors care for anxiety and stress. And as for Bronx students, the stress they felt in crowded homes and neighborhoods was being magnified by a uncontrolled testing which not only stamped out their creativity and love of learning, threatened their mental and physical well being.
That educational catastrophe should have led you to change course, but instead you decided to ratchet up the pressure by having Common Core aligned tests introduced that were normed so harshly that they led to 70 percent of the students in the state were designated as “failures.” As a teacher, a coach, a parent and a grandparent, that is something I can neither forgive nor forget. Adding to the already intolerable stress on Bronx students and teachers through Common Core testing removes whatever claim to legitimacy you may have had when you first took your current position.
Let me end with a warning. The organization I head, the Badass Teachers Association, with nearly 35,000 members and chapters in every state, will hold you personally accountable for the policies you have introduced. Everywhere you go, BATS will be there to ask the State to withdraw from Common Core, stop schools closings, and stop rating teachers and schools on student test scores. Since we are in the Bronx, my message to you is simple and direct “Change Course or Get Lost”

Summary of My Remarks to Regents Chair Tisch at Common Core Forum in the Bronx

What I will say to Regents Chair Tisch after describing the fear and humiliation and demoralization among students and teachers in Bronx schools that have been inspired by testing, test based evaluation of schools and teachers, school closings, and now the imposition of Common Core aligned tests scored artificially low by the New York State Education Department, thereby designating over 70 percent of the children in the state as “failures.”.

"Dr Tisch. You have prescribed a regimen of cruel and unusual punishment for the children of this state-other wise known as the Common Core Standards- to prepare them for a life of service to a nation fearful it will not meet the challenge of Global Economic Competitiveness. And what prepares you to lead this crusade. Are you a renowned and esteemed education scholar? No. You have not written a single book or published a major article on education policy. Do you have long experience teaching in the public schools of his state? No. You have never been a public  school teacher. Did you even attend public school or send your own children to public schools? No. You attended private school and send your children to private schools. So what qualifies you  to be Chair of the New York State Board of Regents at this critical moment in the history of public education? Only the possession of great wealth and the arrogance of someone accustomed to getting their own way. These traits, which catapulted you to leadership, will be your undoing. You have already triggered the largest parent test revolt in the history of New York State. That revolt will spread to teachers and students , and, more quickly than you can imagine,  will not only sweep away Common Core, but much of the uncontrolled testing that has deformed public education in New York State.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Terry Pruess Announces Her Candidacy for Presidency of Broward Teachers Union- With My Endorsement

FROM:  Terry Preuss, NBCT, Career Public Educator, BTU Executive Board Member, District Advisory Council Appointee @ www.terrypreuss.com
Terry Preuss, NBCT, SBBC Teacher 954-665-5052 terrypreuss@yahoo.com www.terrypreuss.com
Mark Naison, BAT Co-Founder, Professor, Fordham University  (917) 836-3014!  mnaison@aol.com
Herman Smith, SBBC Guidance Counselor  (954) 600-4704 Herman.Smith@browardschools.com
Katie Donlevie, First Book Special Projects – 202.870.5510
FCAT Blues by Terry Preuss, NBCT
I watch.
They sit, quiet.
Testing. Quiet testing.
Children! Quiet!
Children quiet?
Turn off their HEARTS!

Broward County, Florida teacher, Terry Preuss, NBCT, and author of Voices in the Hall, gets national endorsement for her upcoming run as president of the Broward Teachers Union, the 6th largest union in the country.
Mark Naison,  Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University, and a founder of the 34,000 member strong Badass Teachers Association, who is prominently featured in the just released documentary..."Standardized," calls Terry Preuss "The right person for the job...  exactly the kind of eloquent, passionate and effective voice the BTU needs to represent its members...  she cannot be intimidated, she cannot be silenced and she cannot be bought."  (Full Endorsement Below)
"Teachers today are being vilified, and that has to stop!" Preuss says.  "I'm happy to join AFT President Randi Weingarten, and the BTU, and stand for teachers and kids on this day of action!"
On the national front,  AFT President Randi Weingarten said various protests are expected to take place in at least 60 cities on Dec. 9.  Locally, Preuss said The Broward Teachers Union will be joining actors and athletes in donating “First Book” reading books to hundreds of children just before the holidays and “Share My Lesson” resources for teachers to use in increasing literacy. (Press Releases sent from BTU Friday)

Preuss believes that while corporate and private interests "rape" taxpayers' educational funds, more so since the onset of programs like NCLB No Child Left Behind and RITT Race to the Top, that force districts and schools to utilize funds to measure student and school achievement through standardized testing,  the media and corporate advertising machinery, simultaneously seems to blame teachers and neighborhood schools for the failure of society.  
"It is simply not true!"  says Preuss.  "Our problem is poverty.  Children of poverty tend to  score lower on tests. Poverty continues to be the greatest determining factor in a child's success at school!"
As more affluent and high achieving children flock to the flavor-of-the-month charter school, creating a false sense of security and new kind of unprecedented segregation, our public schools have more children of poverty to teach, service, test, and inspire to reach the educational goals being mandated by the states and federal governments.
 "Our teachers and schools work hard with the little funds that are left.  Fix our problem of poverty in America.  It's got to be fixable! Fix that, and you fix the main factor that affects public education,"  Preuss says.
Heart wrenching true stories about the children of poverty Preuss has worked with over the years are featured in her book, Voices in the Hall, available on Amazon, and provide an eye opening account of what really ails education today. 
According to Preuss, "Our problems with education go far deeper than the quality of a teacher's instruction and can certainly not be measured by a standardized test."
Presently Preuss is organizing a South Florida screening of the new documentary,  Standardized, by Rockfish Productions, which will be attended by community leaders, activists, parents, teachers and students. 
"I want to get the message out there that what we are doing through over emphasizing standardized testing is harmful.  It hurts our kids, our teachers, and our communities, and it funnels billions of dollars in the wrong direction." Preuss says.

Mark Naison Endorsement of Terry Preuss for President of Broward Teachers Union
Dr Mark Naison

As a founder of the Badass Teacher Association, now 34,000 strong; a Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University, and someone with more than 45 years experience teaching and coaching in inner city neighborhoods, I would like to strongly endorse Terry Preuss for president of the Broward Teachers Union.
At a time when teachers are under attack in Florida and around the nation, when they are increasingly subject to absurd and inaccurate assessments and evaluations developed by those who have never spent time in the classroom, Terry Preuss is the right person for the job. She is an eloquent speaker, a brilliant writer, and a fearless advocate for the most vulnerable of our students, as well as for teachers. But most of all, she cannot be intimidated, she cannot be silenced and she cannot be bought.
She will stand up to all those seeking to script teaching and learning and silence teachers voices, and be a formidable advocate for the Broward Teachers Union in the public sphere as well as a stubborn and effective negotiator behind closed doors.  At a time when union teachers need to get the public and the media on their side, Terry Preuss is exactly the kind of eloquent, passionate and effective voice the BTU needs to represent its members. She is smarter, more eloquent, and more charismatic than anyone in the camp of teacher enemies, in Florida or anywhere else. She has my full and unwavering support, as well as that of BATs around the country!!!!
On the National Day of Action, Preuss will most likely be teaching students she loves at the school she has called 'home' for 14 years, Olsen Middle School.
 "For me," says Preuss, "There is no bigger or more important 'action' I can do on the National Day of Action than teach the kids I love, right in my community."
Terry Preuss, NBCT, and BTU Executive Board member, marks  the National Day of Action, Monday, December 9, 2013 planned by the AFT and NEA with an announcement to, "stand for teachers and kids, at all cost and run for BTU presidency," where she feels she can make a real difference.
Preuss was 2002 Olsen Middle School Teacher of the Year, and a 2003 Broward Hispanic Teacher of the Year in Dania Beach, Florida, but is native to Cienfuegos, Cuba.
 Preuss is the author of Voices in the Hall, called by the Sun Sentinel in their June 30, 2002 story, Teacher Turns Life's Troubles into Lessons for her Students...  .a book, "of surprising depth, 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

BATS and the Pedagogy of Joy

One of the reasons that BATS continue to grow and thrive is that we expound a Pedagogy of Joy that stands in sharp contrast to the Pegagogy of Fear and Pain which dominates current education policy. The Arne Duncans and Michelle Rhees and John Kings of the world advocate using schools to "whip students in shape" to meet the demands of global competition. Their vision turns teachers into straw bosses and disciplinarians, forcing students to sit silently and absorb information lest their future be compromised. BATS, by contrast, nurture the creative and joyful aspect of learning, found in play, in exploration of new experiences, in physical movement as well as mastery of academic skills. We welcome disorder and spontaneity as part of the learning process and nurture student talents and skills that may not be in the prescribed curriculum. And it is this vision of teaching and learning which will ultimately prevail, not only because it is more appealing to teachers and students and families, but because the dominant paradigm now being imposed in schools will fail miserably to achieve the two main objectives it claims to support- achieve greater equity, and make our schools more competitive on international tests

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Personal Stake in Defending Teachers

My parents, children of immigrants who became public school teachers, were harder working and more capable than any wealthy and prominent people I met in my journey from Brooklyn streets and schoolyards to an Ivy League college and a Professorship at Fordham. And so is my wife Liz, a public school principal. Attacking the dignity and integrity of such people, while undermining their autonomy and job security, is not only destroying our public schools, it is shredding the fabric of a democratic civic culture. Proud teachers produce proud citizens. Browbeaten and fearful teachers will produce frightened, compliant servants of the Rich.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Job Description for New Teachers

Job Description: New Teacher.

Your Mission: To Squeeze Excellent Test Results out of Frightened and Angry Children and Shatter The Achievement Gap

Things to Ignore: Hunger, Homelessness, Disability, Language, Chronic Illness, Family and Neighborhood Violence, Children's Talents, Personalities and Aptitudes.

Things to Sacrifice: Play, Recess, The Arts.

Job Security: Dependent on Results on Standardized Tests

Prospects for a Long and Happy Career: None.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Tennessee Teacher's Letter to President Obama

November 29, 2013

Dear Mr. President,

I generally don't remember my dreams, and I generally don't dream about presidents, but this time, I did both. Go figure. Anyway, in my dream, I had the opportunity to meet you and talk to you face to face. You have to understand, in my dream, I am totally excited- this is a historic moment for me- since I voted for you twice, think you are an incredibly intelligent man with excellent morals and values, a true American and I am so proud to have a Democrat in the White House!!!!!

Anyway, you shook my hand ( no limp fish- Thank GOD- I was so worried you would have the Al Gore handshake- he was an excellent professor and VP but the man really needs to work on his handshake ) and as you looked into my eyes, you gave me your genuine 100 watt full-blown smile. It even reached your eyes. 

Then, as I introduced myself, as I asked you questions about the reform happening in our school systems....my dream changed. You changed, Mr. President. One minute you were all smiles and warmth then, in mid-sentence, I noticed that you were no longer smiling at me. Your eyes looked sad- so sad- and you shook your head at me and turned away from me- coldly-and you did not answer my questions.

Why were you sad, Mr. President? Because, you knew the answers to my questions, you knew that if you told me the truth, it would make me sad. You knew it would hurt me and you did not want to do that to me, Mr. President. Yet, you turned your back on me; you walked away from me, and in that moment, when you turned your back, I felt something inside me crack. I felt a fissure open up inside my heart. I felt betrayed. 

"What had happened?"

"What did I say wrong?" "

“Why did my President forsake me?" 

Mr. President, when you turned away from me, refused to answer me, your silence spoke louder than any words ever could. Suddenly, I knew ( you know how you just have that gut feeling? ) that "ed reform" was a cleverly worded phrase that really meant "corporate takeover of public schools." I knew that you wouldn't admit to it- you knew- yet you had already set the ball in motion- you knew- yet you felt it was too late to turn back- you knew- yet you refused to listen to me- instead- you chose to listen to Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, ALEC, and you turned your back on me. 

The pattern I had been had been struggling to see for months was crystal clear: standardized testing was linked to Ed Reform and NCLB and RttT!!!! It was a money-making capitalist endeavor- and people were getting RICH by testing kids!!!!! I was in shock. What greed- what sin- what a REPUBLICAN thing to do!!!!! In my mind, you turned your back on a loyal voter- you turned your back on a loyal teacher- you turned your back on U.S. PUBLIC schools- you turned your back on OUR CHILDREN, in favor of Corporate Charter Schools and Capitalism and Teach for America. The knowledge I saw in your eyes- as you turned from me- withdrawing into your shell of denial, was gut-wrenching. I felt BETRAYED.

Mr. President, I am asking you to please Face the truth, rather than Race from the truth. I suggest you read Diane Ravitch's new book Reign of Error and educate yourself about what Common Core and RttT are actually doing to our Public schools, teachers, and students. I genuinely believe that your heart is in the right place with Ed Reform, but sir, with all due respect, you are NOT A TEACHER. Arne DUNCAN is NOT A TEACHER. 

I am a public school teacher and public school parent (from a small town in Tennessee- a RED state- where Haslam and Huffman and Rhee all play together in a game to bring the Charter School, or the Achieve School District, plan to fruition ) and I am DEEPLY CONCERNED about my schools, my students, my career, and my children’s future. 

I urge you to remove Arne Duncan and replace him with someone knowledgeable about public education- someone who has taught in the schools- someone who STILL teaches- I urge you to listen to teachers- to what we are saying- to see the dissent- to hear it- to RESPECT it. I worked long and hard for my honors degree from the University of the South- I am a professional educator and I work damn hard- everyday- to ensure my students are "College and Career" ready. I am not a complainer- I am a "doer" and I am a team player. 

Here are some suggestions to start putting things to rights and stop the deconstruction of our Public Schools:

1. Read Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch and make it required reading for ALL of your Department of Education Staff

2. Hire Diane Ravitch as Secretary of Education- Dump Duncan

3. Allow states to back out of Common Core, RttT, and NCLB with no repercussions- states deserve autonomy- let teachers create tests

4. Stop Pearson Publishing, Bill and Melinda Gates, Wendy Kopp, Michelle Rhee, the Koch Brothers, ALEC ( and any other major philanthropist or "donor" from turning public education into a corporate and business venture ( Charter Schools staffed by Teach for America recruits) 

5. Pay your teachers what they are worth- if you want real reform- you do it by giving money to Public Schools and Teachers. Imagine if teaching was one of the HIGHEST paid PROFESSIONS instead of the lowest? Suddenly, the BEST and BRIGHTEST are in the field- and the worst and do-nothings don't even make it in the doors of schools

6. STOP the testing madness ( it is ruining the passion for learning in our children ) accountability is one thing- TESTING TESTING TESTING makes companies rich financially but OBVIOUSLY it is NOT making our children better educated- so why are we implementing MORE OF IT with PARCC and CCSS?

7. FACE POVERTY- it is the HUGE elephant in the ROOM- let guidance counselors give counsel, NOT TESTs- Common Core is NOT a SOLUTION to POVERTY.

Sir, I do hope that this letter finds its way to you, and I hope that you read it and that you heed my words. I would very much like to meet the real YOU instead of the DREAM you--- therefore, I would like to extend an invitation for you to come visit Franklin County High School in Winchester, TN. Spend some time getting to know our teachers, admins, students, and school community. 


Lucianna Sanson
English IV teacher
AP Literature teacher
TN BATs administrator