Saturday, April 30, 2016

Immigrants in the Bronx Are an Overwhelmingly Positive Force

In the Bronx, where I teach, do research, and work closely with local community organizations, the contribution of immigrants-legal and undocumented- has been overwhelmingly positive. The rebuilding of once devastated Bronx neighborhoods has coincided with an influx of immigrants from West Africa, the Dominican Republic, South Asia, the West Indies, Mexico and Albania. These immigrants have built businesses, become an essential part of the local labor force, founded churches and mosques, and sent their children to local public schools where their work ethic and passion for self improvement have made a huge impression. I have had the privilege of teaching many children of these immigrants at Fordham. They are and have been some of my best students. Many of them have overcome huge obstacles to achieve academic success Attacks on Muslims and Mexicans and threats to deport undocumented immigrants, are very personal issues to them. These young people represent the best values of our country. They deserve better than to be demonized and insulted by Presidential candidates.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Cold Truth About Charter Schools In New York City

When all is said and done, charter schools in New York City, if you count all the students and families forced out of them because of behavioral issues or low test scores, and all students, teachers and parents in school buildings where charters have been co-located, have insulted, demoralized and humiliated more people than they have empowered.
For every family who wants to get their child into a charter school, there are five who have suffered some form of abuse or deprival of education resources at the hands of a charter school.
This is the cold reality on the ground. If it weren't for the huge funding the charter schools get from the wealthiest people in the city and the country- funding which goes to politicians who support charters as well as the schools themselves- the charter initiative would be dead in the water.
And when the full accounting of the damage is made- damage in terms of test-driven, stressed filled pedagogy as well as abuse of students families and teachers- every politician who supports the charters will have a lot of explaining to do.
In New York City, the tragedy of closed schools, co-located schools, and uncontrolled testing is inexorably linked to charter expansion.
And this should be a warning to people in other parts of New York state as well as other parts of the country. The Charter Story in New York City is much more of a Tragedy than a Success Story.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why We Need Teachers Who Love And Care For Their Students- Lessons from The Heroin Epidemic

I have a student, and I want you to remember her name, Mikela Ryan, who is taking readers into the very heart of the heroin epidemic in a Upper Westchester Community. I find myself being being torn apart emotionally by the stories she is telling, one of which is that of a high school classmate who died of an overdose shortly after he spoke to her at length. The thought that there are thousands, likely tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of young people, carrying around the burdens this young man articulated and are killing themselves while harming those around them is both sobering and terrifying.
And I had a thought. With all these young people in trouble, in small towns, suburbs and rural areas, as well as cities, what we need more than ever is teachers who are there for their students as people not just as test takers, who listen to their students, take care of their students, create a place for their students to go, emotionally, when the world seems hopeless and forbidding., THOSE are the teachers we need in our schools yet those are the teachers being driven out by accountability measures that discourage teachers from dealing with their children as whole people
Can we take a long time out from the policies we are inflicting on our schools?. Can we have a moratorium on testing and really take a close look at what our young people are going through in their personal lives?.Can we suspend all test based accountability measures and start identifying the teachers who care the most about their students as whole people and empower them to reach out and throw a lifeline to our children who are in the most trouble?
Because what we are doing now is costing us lives. Young people shutting down, closing themselves off, and killing themselves and those around them. This is a crisis being made WORSE by every education policy being promoted at the federal and state level
Time for a change, or we will continue to pay a terrible price.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Teach for America/Obama Fallacy That Is Undermining Our Public Schools

Barack Obama, as one of my brilliant students is documenting in his senior thesis, was our first "internet president." He used social media to get his message across, stay in touch with voters, and out organize his opponents whether in political campaigns or in Congress.
This approach fit in perfectly with Mr Obama's belief that the application of technology was the most effective path to bringing new talent and energy to the solution of longstanding social problems. Just as young, tech savvy people were the key to the success of his political campaigns, so they would be to creating innovative solutions in health care and education policy He would bring "the best and the brightest" young people out of Ivy League schools and tech companies to shake up and streamline areas of social policies filled with inefficiencies
In education, President Obama's strategy was to flood public schools with talented young people and drive the "dead wood" out with data driven methods of school and teacher evaluation. Schools which failed to perform would be closed, veteran teachers who failed to produce results fired, and the path would be cleared or dramatic changes in performance, especially in poor and moderate income communities by creating charter schools freed from bureaucratic restraints. And Teach for America would be brought in to assure schools old and new would have top talent from the nation's best universities rather than poorly trained students from teacher education programs who represented the bulk of the nation's teachers
It was an extraordinarily seductive vision, especially since it was endorsed, and financed by some of the nation's wealthiest and successful business entrepreneurs like Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, and Eli Broad, people who had used technology to revolutionize their own fields
Unfortunately, it has failed miserably in every possible respect, from raising the nation's position in global educational rankings, to reducing inequities by race and class, to improving the quality of candidates for the teaching profession
Why? Because the data driven transformation of schools and teaching- characterized by scripting, intimidation and stress- that the President has pushed has made the profession so unattractive that the best older teachers have left and the new "highly qualified" ones brought in through Teach for America don't stay.
What you have is the worst of all possible worlds- Schools so stress filled that no one can stand to teach in them for more than a few years.
How students are supposed to benefit from this no one has figured out!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Family Mourns for Prince

When I heard of Prince's passing, I was in stunned, crushed, in shock. i loved the extraordinarily innovative and boundary shattering music he made which combined so many different traditions and genres and loved the way he played in his videos with conventional images of race and gender. Prince, with both humor and deadly seriousness, created a pan-sexual persona that touched a chord with perhaps the broadest spectrum of identities that any artist had ever done. I do not use the term genius that often. Prince was a genius
But he was also part of our family. My two children, Sara and Eric, grew up watching MTV with me every night in our living room after long days of school and sports practices and no artists touched our imaginations more than Prince. You see, my children, growing up in Park Slope in the 80's, attending public schools, playing basketball, baseball and tennis in school gyms and public parks., had one of the most multicultural childhoods anyone could imagine. Their friends and teammates were not only Black, White and Latino; many were mixed race;, more than a few had different races represented in the same family; and some had two gay parents.
it was hard to find the full spectrum of the people they interacted with daily in most spheres of popular culture- but you found them in Prince videos. Although some people who came on the screen were identifiably Black or White, large numbers were racially indeterminate- mixed race in some combination that no one needed to explain.And men and women displayed, almost randomly, traits which were associated with what was once regarded as the "opposite" gender; but which in Prince world seemed not to matter. And when you combined this with acrobatic dancing, humor and some of the funkiest beats every laid down, the combination was irresistible
There was no better soundtrack to the lives of my two wonderful children, Sara and Eric, great athletes both, whose friendships, dating patterns and romantic relationships, crossed every boundary that you could find in a Prince video.
It was as though Prince brought our family and neighborhood to life in a way that gave legitimacy, swagger and romance to the way my children lived
As anyone can tell you who has ever met Sara and Eric, I have two of the coolest children anyone could ever want. In a small but important way Prince helped shape who they are.
I will miss him terribly. But also owe him a huge debt of gratitude for giving legitimacy to the way my children lived and the boundaries they crossed in their friendships and relationships..
Peace, Love .R.I. P

Charter Schools and Gentrification Go Hand in Hand

The link between charter schools and gentrification is there for anyone who looks- in Harlem, in Washington DC, in Chicago, in Philadelphia, in Baltimore, in New Orleans, in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. And anyone who is in a smaller city like Camden or Newark or Buffalo which underwent savage levels of decay after industries left and factories closed had better beware because gentrification is coming to you too. Developers LOVE charters and love it when public schools are closed even more because they can turn those beautiful old buildings into luxury condos.
This is the ugly underside of school reform- the money to be made is not only in testing, and school privatization, it is also in real estate investment and spectulation.
And remember this, because charter schools, unlike public schools, are meeting places ONLY for charter parents,, turning public schools into charters prevents communities from uniting to defend their homes, their business districts and cultural institutions or to demand that ( truly) affordable housing be built to enable long time residents to stay,s

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Teach For America Corps Members Talk Truth to Their Students

I'll get a job on Wall Street,
You'll get a job at Wal-Mart
I'll found a charter school
You'll be a charter member of the school to prison pipeline
I'll get my loans forgiven
You won't be able to get a loan.
I will be running for office
You will be cleaning offices
Everybody loves me
Everybody fears you.
I am here for two years
You are here foreover
I know, It sucks. It's not fair. But I need to spend some time with you to move up in the world.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

How The African Immigration Research of the Bronx African American History Project Helped Improve Services in Bronx Communities.

How The African Immigration Research of the Bronx African American History Project Helped Bring Better Services into Bronx Communities.
At the Bronx Muslim Forum at the Al-Amin Community Center, one of the most moving moments for the Bronx African American History Project staff members present came when Sheikh Moussa Drammah, who organized the event held up a "The White Paper on African Immigration" published 8 years ago by Dr Jane Kani Edward, African Immigration Researcher for the BAAAHP and said "I want tell you how this document changed our lives here in the Bronx."
"When Dr Edward published this" Mr Drammeh who came here from the Gambia said," very few public officials knew how many African immigrants there were in the Bronx. They didn't know that there were more African Immigrants in the Bronx than anywhere in New York City. This document put us on the map. We circulated it among leaders of our community, and sent it to public officials,and heads of city agencies. And it made a big difference. It helped bring needed services to our community that had not been available before."
I was blown away by this revelation. I knew that Dr.Edward's research was ground breaking. I knew that it had been widely circulated among scholars, as well as leaders of Bronx African communities. But I didn't know that it had been partially responsible for helping improve public services for Bronx African immigrants.
This not only made me incredibly proud of Dr Edward's research, it made me proud to be associated with an oral history project which took its cues from the community it was studying and included leaders of that community in its research team, something we had done when we founded the BAAHP in 2003
It was people in Bronx neighborhoods and schools who first told us that we needed to study the rapidly growing West African presence in the Bronx. And who encouraged us to hire a scholar who coordinated these efforts. It was as a result of their efforts that we hired the brilliant Dr Jane Edward as coordinator of African Immigration Research, and later as a faculty member in the Department of African and African American Studies. And it is under Dr Edward's leadership that the BAAHP began recording and documenting the voices of the Bronx's African Muslim leaders, an effort which led to the sponsorship of the Bronx Muslim Forum

The Clinton Legacy

Someday, historians will look at the Presidency of Bill Clinton as an historic milestone for the United States, almost as significant as the Presidency of Ronald Reagen. It was under President Clinton that key decisions were made to leave more than a century of American industrialization behind and to reshape the US as an information and human services economy where most jobs would be far lower paying than they were in the industrial era and where the financial and technology sectors would be the key centers of innovation
To this end, the Clinton Administration pushed for free trade agreements which would accelerate the departure of industrial jobs to Asia and Latin America, while flooding the US with cheap consumer goods. It also pushed for the repeal of the Glass Steagall law, allowing Wall Street banks to develop new financial products such as derivatives which packaged debt into forms which could be easily sold as "safe" investments to pension funds, insurance companies, state and city governments, and nations around the world. These policies marked the death knell of the US Steel and Auto industries, promoted an rapid expansion of investment banks and insurance companies, and gave a huge shot in the arm to chain stores such as Wal-Mart .which distributed the cheap consumer goods produced abroad,
On the domestic front, the Clinton administration pushed through two coercive policies to handle the tens of millions of people displaced by de-industrialization who were less than enthusiastic about accepting the low the new economy was generating. The first was "Welfare Reform" which would force even women with young children to take any available work opportunities no matter what the wage paid; and the second was mass imprisonment of drug offenders. As a result, the prison population catapulted in size and low wage retail and service jobs found a new wave of impoverished applicants who faced cut off of health benefits and food stamps if they failed to seek employment
As I look at the American social and economic landscape today- with its huge concentration of wealth at the top, its swollen prison population and its shrinking middle class, I cannot help but see the influence of Bill Clinton. And while I despise the attacks on immigrants and Muslims launched by some Republican candidates, I cannot generate much enthusiasm for another Clinton Presidency.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Bronx Muslim Forum Sponsored by Bronx African American History Project Opens Hearts and Minds

Yesterday's Bronx Muslim forum at the Al-Amin community center was, for me, my colleague Dr Jane Edward and my students, an eye opening, even life changing event. The people who spoke at the Forum and who we interacted with over pizza and Halal Chinese food, defied conventional stereotypes of Muslims in every conceivable way. They varied enormously in appearance national origin, gender and degree of orthodoxy, but they all conveyed one powerful message- that the Islam they practice and the Islam in the Koran does not promote violence and that those who use it for those purposes are corrupting the true spirit of their faith. All spoke of their profound commitment to live in harmony with people of other faiths and were involved in efforts to promote interfaith unity. You could not help but be moved by, not only by their presentations, but the warmth and compassion and hospitality which they displayed in conversations. The person who organized the event, Sheikh Moussa. Drammeh, is someone who is quite literally reinventing American Islam as an ecumenical force in the Bronx and New York City. He not only has a synagogue who shares space with his mosque, he invites the entire Bronx community in for meals and public events. I only wish more of my students and colleagues were there to witness and be part of an event of this kind, but that will come in time. I left yesterday's forum filled with energy and filled with hope

Friday, April 15, 2016

Why I Won't Be Celebrating the Death of Public Education

All throughout urban America, school reformers, politicians and billionaire philanthropists are planning to eliminate public schools and replace them with charter schools. This strategy, first unveiled in New Orleans, is now in full effect in Newark, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Hartford, Chicago and a score of other cities. I for one will not be endorsing or celebrating this transformation. Here is why
I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, Crown Heights which was largely Jewish and Italian, with a handful of Black and Irish families. Almost none of the people who lived there, other than my parents, had gone to college. Many of the grandparents had less than 8th grade educations
The public schools in our neighborhood were the tallest and most imposing buildings around and they represented, for many of us, a shot a better life than our parents and grand parents ever dreamed of. For some, that dream would be achieved through academics; for others, through a combination of academics, sports and arts. My cousin Stephen, who played basketball at Columbia after graduating from Brooklyn Technical HS,  symbolized those possibilities. His father was a truck dispatcher and here he was going to one of the best colleges in the nation, if not the world, his pathway there eased by basketball skills honed in Brooklyn schoolyards and gymnasiums
I saw my own future there, if I worked as hard in sports as I did in school, and my dreams were reinforced by teachers and coaches who saw I had athletic as well as academic talent. I went to schools which had daily gym classes, made recess a regular part of the day, and had great athletic teams. While my basketball skills were not up to the level of my cousin Stephen ( he was 6'3"- I was 6'0" even) I was able to find my own sports outlet through tennis, which I learned in a nearby public park. My high school had a tennis team which played in a public school league which sent at least 20 players a year to top colleges. I took advantage of that opportunity, and followed my cousin Stephen to Columbia, where I tried out and made the school tennis team
At Columbia, I discovered something extraordinary. Not only were the vast majority of top science and math students graduates of New York City public schools like Stuyvestant and Bronx Science, but so were a large portion of the athletes. By the time I graduated from Columbia as captain of the tennis team, captains of the football, and baseball team were New York public high school graduates. And when, two years later, Columbia was ranked in the top ten in the country in basketball, its three star players, all of whom played in the NBA, were New York public school graduates- Jim McMillen from Jefferson, Dave Newmark from Lincoln, and Hayward Dotson from Stuyvestant.
Given this experience, which I have seen echoed by many of the people my age I interviewed for the Bronx African American History Project, I question the smug dismissal of public education in urban America as a failure. In my generation the public schools of New York provided hope for many young people of modest means. If in subsequent generations, they lost some of that appeal, perhaps it is because of removal , due to budget cuts,of the great sports and arts programs that schools had when I was attending them
Will charter schools play the same role for urban youth that public schools did in my formative years?. The jury is still out on that.
Especially if they put test prep above sports, arts, science and anything which allows young people to explore their multiple talents and dream of a better life.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Opt Out Movement and "Creeping Fascism"

If you are looking for signs of "creeping fascism' in the United States, you need look no further than the response to the Opt Out movement from school authorities. We see Intimidation, bribery, abuse of children, authoritarian behavior on a grand scale- all directed at children, families, and teachers who decide to let their conscience dictate their actions on one of the most important issues of the day. Children who Opt Out of Tests have been subject to a wide variety of punishments including "sit and stare" policies; exclusions from arts programs, teams and school trips. ; Worse, yet some have been denied mandated services, and have been lectured and threatened without their parents present to get them to change their minds., Teachers who support the Opt Out movement have been warned not to communicate their viewpoint to students and parents under threat of suspension or termination; principals with similar views have been told that high Opt Outs could affect their schools funding .
This behavior is not confined to any one state or school district. We see it everywhere. From New York, to Florida, to New Mexico, Colorado and California. It not only reflects poorly on dominant education policy, it provides a window into how we as a nation treat children and how we deal with dissentinng voices in our communities and institutions.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

An Historian Honors Participants in the Opt Out Movement

Today, I want to take this opportunity to affirm my respect and gratitude for all the children and families who have chosen to Opt Out of State Tests this spring and all the teachers, principals, and superintendents who have supported them
You have done so in the face of
**Bribery and intimidation, sometimes from state officials, sometimes from midguided school administrators and personnel
**Well financed media campaigns to encourage students to "Opt-In"
**Efforts to divide the Opt Out Movement along racial lines
**US Department of Education threats to withold funds from schools and districts with high Opt Out numbers
In spite of all these, you have decided, as a matter of conscience, to stand up for the nation's children, and the nation's public schools, through the one gesture that policy makers are forced to take seriously
The historians of the future will honor you for your foresight and courage, but this historian wants to honor you today.
You have stood up for the very best in our nation's traditions.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Rockland County Parent GOES OFF on Untimed Testing in NY State!

I don't normally post about the opt out movement and state tests. I know that we have wonderful people in our community who are much better informed than I and keep us up to date on the latest information so that we can make informed decisions on what is best for our children. However, I AM SO IRATE, MY BLOOD IS BOILING and I cannot remain silent. In hopes that you will all read this, I will try to make it brief. This year, the powers that be decided they would make a big change- the tests would be untimed. When I first heard that, I thought- wow! that is HUGE! It could be a really great thing, or an enormous disaster. Either way, I thought it was an interesting "experiment" , and was curious if it would help more children than it hurt. Just so you understand, there was ZERO time limit on this test. A child could sit with it ALL DAY- and reports are in that many did. Keep in mind, many of the kids taking this test are 8 years old. Also, please keep in mind the logistics- The staff people required to proctor these children until the tests are done, the space within the building to have these children take this test until they are done, the instructional time lost for all these children until they are done..... IN EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL IN THE STATE. We are talking huuuuuge numbers both financially and educationally. So one would think, if you are going to invest all this time and money into this idea of an untimed test, presumably to relieve some stress and allow for better performance, wouldn't you want to know if it worked????? Wouldn't you think the state would want to see how long it took for children to take the exam? If the children who took longer performed better? What the average time frame was? If the length of time the kids took on the exam differed by grade level or by school district? There are so many interesting questions that one would ASSUME the state would want the answers to from an experiment of this magnitude. BUT GUESS WHAT??????? We aren't getting any answers! We will never know if this is worth all the time, hassle, money and burden on some children. DO YOU KNOW WHY???? THE STATE COLLECTED NO DATA!!!! YOU HEARD ME!!!!! ZILCH!!!!! nowhere on the exam did teachers have to report how long it took the student to take the test!!!!!! I couldn't believe it!!!! They don't care!!!! The state doesn't know if it took you kid 40 minutes or 4 hours to finish their exam. This was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. All the staffing, juggling, stress put on the students who just hold on to their unfinished exams, etc. They don't care to know if it was worth it. They experiment with our children yet again FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I am thoroughly disgusted. MIC DROP

Monday, April 11, 2016

Casualties of War in 1970's Park Slope

When Liz and I moved to Park Slope in 1976, the neighborhood still bore scars of a decade of disinvestment exacerbated by the city's fiscal crisis. There were abandoned buildings on 7th Avenue south of 9th Street, on Garfield Place between 7th and 6th Avenues, and on many blocks between 4th and 5th Avenues.
But the most heartrending scenes that I saw in the neighborhood were those outside the methadone clinic on 8th Avenue and 5th Street. Every weekday, I would see 20 to 40 people lined up outside the clinic, their faces drawn and haggard, their affect depressed and defeated. About a third of the people were women, two thirds men. And most of the men were wearing army fatigue jackets.
Day after day, I saw the same faces. The same jackets. And I had a haunting realization- these men were Vietnam veterans. Young men from Park Slope and Windsor Terrace's working class neighborhoods who came back from the war with drug habits and mental health issues that rendered them unable to gain or keep regular jobs.
And the methadone clinic was not the only place I saw them. As I jogged or walked around the park, or, a few years later, took my children to the park to play ball, I would see theme on park benches along Prospect Park West or on benches by the ball fields. They were there, rain or shine, by late morning and stayed till late afternoon.
It was hard to put in words how painful this was to see. We had sent the best of our working class youth to Vietnam, to fight a war so awful and demoralizing that it destroyed many who fought in it, and then left many of them to suffer with their nightmares and injuries with whatever drugs that would kill the pain, whether illegal or prescribed by doctors.
As years passed, the abandoned buildings were fixed up and Park Slope became wealthier, the number of people lining up outside the clinic started to shrink and the methadone clinic eventually closed.
But I never want to forget the men and women who stood outside it, people who sacrificed for their country and paid a terrible price for what they did.
I write this piece in their honor, and as a reminder how easily people can become disposable when their families lack power and influence.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Reflections of a Third Grade Rebel on Opting Out and Justice

FROM A THIRD GRADE REBEL (NOTE: this was the title of her story) My family and I decided that for the NYS ELA 3rd grade test I would opt out. Instead of sitting in the all-purpose room for 3 hours, I stayed home until the test was over. When I arrived at school, on the way down to my classroom I was passing the classroom that some of the special needs kids are in and I heard someone crying, and someone screaming!!!!! I was sad to hear that they were crying and screaming. I felt so bad for them! About an hour went by and it was time for lunch. On the way down to the cafeteria I was thinking, “Was all of that crying and screaming about the stress of the state test?!?!?!?!?!?” When I sat down at my usual table with all of my friends I told my friend the whole story about the screaming and crying and that I thought that it was about the state test. My friend said,”I asked my mom if children with special needs have to take the state test too. My mom explained that yes they do have to take the same test as us. Isn’t that so so sad!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?” I was shocked. This is my friend of course, that was opting out too, like me. When lunch was over we went to the classroom and did a little math. Then it was time to go home. We packed up our backpacks and my mom picked me up from school. I asked her if the special needs kids had to take the same test that all of my classmates did and she said, “Yes. And that is ONE of the MANY reasons why we opt out. Because although you are not a child with special needs, our family believes that this test is not fair and not appropriate for kids who get stressed out on tests or have special needs. School is a place where kids should feel safe. This test makes kids feel unsafe and scared in school.” So, in this case, that is one of the reasons why my family chooses to opt me out out of the New York State Test. After what I saw today in school I am so thankful that my family opted me out. No kid should ever be made to scream and cry in school. All parents should listen to this story and understand that even a third grader has figured out why kids shouldn’t take this test. The test is not ok for kids. My teacher never gives us any test or work that makes kids scream or cry. And the state shouldn’t either. Until the state fixes it, all families should do what mine did. OPT OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Bring the Music Back!

I have a dream..... that the testing budget in New York City and New York State was reduced by 80 percent and the available funds were used to purchase musical instruments for every high school and middle school so that any student who tried out for and made the band or orchestra could be given a musical instrument to take home and practice with.
Impossible you say? We actually had this in New York City public schools from the late 40's through the middle 70's until the great music programs in our schools were SHUT DOWN when a banker led Emergency Financial Control Board dictated huge budget cuts in the Department of Education
So many great musicians and songwriters were products of these programs; Eddie and Charlie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Bobby Sanabria, Carol King, Jimmy Owens, Willie Colon to name only a few.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Teacher Weighs in on the 8th Grade ELA Test in New York State

This week I administered the 8th grade ELA assessment. The test, on the whole, was an abomination. It was so developmentally inappropriate that the state should be brought up on child abuse charges. As I looked out at my hard working students, my heart sank. It sank because I know that they are being set up to fail this exam, but they do not know that this is the motive of the state. They are in their seats, plugging along, trying their best and working as hard as they can. I'd like to share some examples of how developmentally inappropriate this test is. One reading passage in Book 2 was so difficult that between the first and second paragraphs the state itself had to footnote 6 words. The passage went on using so many other words, that were not footnoted, that simply are not in our common vernacular. For example, what are "fastnesses"? This is a word that was used to describe the setting of the story, which became very important to understand as it relates to the questions that were asked on the following pages of the book. Now, I asked 8 of my fellow colleagues to define this word. 1 of the 8 knew the answer. Unless you are a geology major, how is this word a part of our everyday language, let alone the reading capability of an average 8th grader? And our ESL students? ELL students? Special Education students (some of whom are reading on a third grade level)? My heart is bleeding for these kids. Then on day 3 of this marathon came the real whammy. Just trying to navigate the questions in Book 3 was nearly impossible for kids. One of my highest achieving students called me to her desk and pointed at the extended response question and said, "This question is just weird. It doesn't make sense. I don't know what they want us to write. What should I do?" Of course, I reassured her to trust her instincts and try her hardest. She was one of 7 kids in my particular proctoring location that called me to her desk about that very same question. No one understood what was being asked of them. At the end of day 3 one of my special education students lay her head on her desk and tears began to fall. She said, "I'm so tired, I can't do this anymore. I don't know what they are asking, and whatever they are asking I don't know how to answer it because I didn't understand the reading passage." I encouraged her to take a break, get some water and try again. She took my advice to heart and the poor kid sat looking at this one question for another HOUR. In total she had been taking the test for 3 hours and 20 minutes with no lunch. Finally, she called me over, and said, "I just can't do it. I have read the passage a million times and I don't know the answer. " It was at that point that she turned in her test without answering that last question. I told her how proud I was of her. I told her that trying her best is the most important thing that she can do for herself in this world. I am heartbroken for her and for all of the children who were subjected to this horrendous developmentally inappropriate exam.

Opt Out and the War in Vietnam

Here is what I learned from the War in Vietnam which has relevance to Opt Out: Money is important, power is important, technology is important, but when people are fighting to defend something near and dear to them- whether it is their country, their community, or their family- their capacity for sacrifice can overcome the most extraordinary financial and technological advances possessed by outsiders, The technocrats shaping US policy in Vietnam- many of them ivy league trained- could not imagine how the people of an Asian country which was largely pre-industrial could stand up to the the firepower that the most powerful nation in the history of the world could unleash against them, But they vastly underestimated the willingness of Vietnamese civilians as well as soldiers to sacrifice to defend their country against foreign invaders.

Similarly, those behind testing and Common Core in the US have virtually limitless resources to buy off governments and state education departments. They can use their wealth to control presidents, governors, mayors, and school commissioners. And they cannot imagine why mere parents think they have the wherewithal to resist their policies. But what they forget is that when parents feel their children's welfare is at stake, there is no sacrifice that is too great for them to make. The Opt Out movement is a reflection of that sacrifice, And in the face of parents determined to defend their children, neither bribery or intimidation will work. That is a lesson that elites are gradually learning, the hard way.

Just as they did in Vietnam

Notorious Phd's Opt Out Rap

They call me Notorious Phd
My passion is teaching history
I'm here to give a big shout out
To all the families who dare to opt out

Our schools are filled with toxic tests
Where contempt is shown for what teachers do best
Where arts and sports and recess are lost
Where billionaire bullies are now the boss

But parents and students have had enough
They're starting to call the Reformers bluff
You can’t sort students with a government rater
If Test Resistance deprives them of data

So just say no when they say Opt In
And throw their tests in the garbage bin
Show them your freedom's not for sale
And the Test Regime is bound to fail

What "Test Security" Hides: Message From a Teacher on Product placement in the 7th Grade ELA Test

FYI, yesterdays 7th Grade test had reading passages with the following product placement: Riddell, the helmet manufacturer, Skittles, Stonyfield yogurt, and Doritos. Today, the last two reading passages were about children who did not have mothers or fathers because of death or seperation. Very appropriate - NOT. Lastly the final essay asked to compare the last two stories, mentioning the story teller in the first story by name. Only problem is that since he was the narrator of the story, his name never appeared in the reading selection, only in the intro. Kids were confused

Monday, April 4, 2016

Opt Out as a Free Speech Movement

Opt Out As a Free Speech Movement
I produced the video below not only to proclaim that Opt Out is a Freedom Movement, but that it has become, due to attempted repression by school authorities, a Free Speech movement as well. Some elected officials have said that no public employees should have the right to speak out on the issues of the day, but if we apply that criteria to schools, we end up sharply narrowing our vision of what schools should do. Silencing principals, teachers and parents who wish to speak honestly about testing and curriculum sends a chilling message to students-namely, that a school is a place to learn obedience, not to appreciate differences of opinion and the battle of ideas. Those who want an Opt Out free school come perilously close to wanting a thought free school, or at lease a school free of independent thinking. This is yet another reason why the stakes in this conflict are very high. The kind of citizens we want in the future are being shaped by the kind of schools we have in the present.