Saturday, November 30, 2013

Letter to President Obama on Education Policy

Dear President Obama:

As a scholar in African American History and a teacher and coach for
more than 45 years- it is my unhappy duty to inform you that your
education policies have contributed to the lowest morale among teachers 
that I have seen in my lifetime, while failing to narrow gaps in
opportunity or achievement based on race or class.

You may not believe me, but if you were, as I am, in daily contact
with thousands of teachers from inner city to suburb to small town, you
would be as worried as I am. Judging teachers on the basis of student
test scores, as your Race to the Top policy requires, has been an unmitigated disaster;

 so has closing allegedly failing schools on the
basis of such scores. Teachers everywhere now feel they have to teach
to the test; in poor neighborhoods, they fear they will lose their jobs
if they don't make this their sole priority.

Such policies undermine the arts; turn recess and physical
education into a luxury only high performing schools can offer, drive
mentoring and relationship building out of the classroom, and place
teachers at the mercy of accountability officers and data collectors.

The joy and creative learning that your own children experience
in one of the nation's top private schools are being driven out of
public schools throughout the nation with startling rapidity. Teachers
work in fear. Students learn under extreme stress. Parents wonder why
their children have started to hate school.

I don't always agree with your policies; but I never thought of
you as living in a bubble; unwilling to hear inconvenient voices that
force you to re- evaluate and revise ideas your administration has put
forward that fail to stand the test of experience. However, your
stubborn adherence to education policies that have destabilized
neighborhoods,undermined the teaching profession, demoralized teachers
and squeezed joy from the nation's public school classrooms, have
forced me to conclude that you are no long are willing to keep your ear
close to the ground the way great leaders do.

You may think that health care and foreign policy are higher
priorities than education as they deal with issues that are quite
literally matters of life and death; but mark my words, your education
policies will leave as much a blemish on your Presidency as the Vietnam
War did on the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

You have two more years to change course and rescue the legacy
of your Presidency in this critical sphere of policy. The first step
in doing this would be to invite public school teachers to The White
House to tell their stories; the second is to replace Secretary of
Education with someone who has spent at least 10 years in a public
school classroom.


Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University
Co-Founder, Badass Teachers Association

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Message to Food Critic Frank Bruni- Who Fancies Himself an Education Expert

As a coach and teacher for more than 45 years, I always wonder at the "chutzpah" of those who have not worked closely with children who feel they know what serves their needs better than lifetime educators. The most effective educators-- and coaches- start with the personalities and talents of the children in front of them and try to inspire them to achieve to the best they are capable of- they don't browbeat them to reach an abstract standard set by people far distant from that encounter. This isn"t coddling students, it is teaching them. I challenge you to come to my classroom at Fordham and see, in action, what I am talking about or talk with the hundreds of young people i coached when I was running youth sports programs in Brooklyn in the 80's and the 90's. I was and am demanding, but my eye is always, first and foremost, on the young people in front of me and what motivates them and best helps them learn. CCSS takes us away from our best practices for a one size fits paradigm that is the antithesis of creative and humane teaching

Saturday, November 23, 2013

50 Years Later: My Thoughts on JFK's Assassination

I was a 17 year old sophomore at Columbia College when JFK was assassinated. I was walking up the steps of Low Library toward my art history class when I got the news, Like many of my classmates, I was stunned, and watched the funeral and subsequent events with them on televisions in the student lounge in my residence hall.

But unlike many of my classmates, I had a larger narrative in which to place his death. As someone making the transition from college athlete to civil rights activist, I viewed the assassination in much the same way that Malcolm X did "as chickens coming home to roost." I was convinced that Kennedy had been killed because, under great pressure, he had endorsed the goals of the civil rights movement and put teeth in that support by introducing a Civil Right bill.  What follows is my analysis of the meaning of JFK's assassination, written from a distance and through an historian's and activists lens:

JFK's death proved to be a nail in the coffin in the ethos of passivity and conformity that shaped my experiences as a young person growing up in the 1950's

I often tell students that two events gave people of my generation the licence to imagine themselves as activists fighting for justice rather than individuals striving for a secure place in the middle class- the student sit ins that began in Greensboro North Carolina and JFK's inaugural address. JFK was the first elected official in my lifetime, and the first public leader of any importance- to tell young people that public service and a confrontation with problems of poverty and inequality was a noble calling. Even though he meant those words to be applied globally, in the struggle against Communism, many young people applied them to the emerging civil rights struggle as participants and supporters. And that struggle, though not always initially supported by JFK, pushed him to become a more forceful advocate for racial justice in the US just as it pushed the youth of America to adopt that cause as their own.. When JFK became the first president in US history, to give a televised address to the nation, unequivocally supporting full racial equality, and introduce a Civil Rights Bill to help achieve that objective, it was a sign that the conformist politics of the McCarthy Era had been left behind, and that fear of Communism would no longer undermine all possibilities of domestic protest.

When JFK was assassinated, many of us felt we had lost part of ourselves, but we also felt reaffirmed in our commitment to fight for racial justice no matter what obstacles were placed in our path. He became not only a symbol of our cause, but a martyr to it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Teacher as An American Hero

One of my major goals as a spokesperson for BATS is to create an image of the pubic school teacher as a New American Hero, a woman or a man who, in the face of overwhelming pressure decides to stand up against attacks on childhood, the erosion of civil liberties, and the wholesale intimidation of American workers on the job. BATS are people of courage who refuse to accept turning schools into training grounds for obedient workers and passive citizens, willing to accept having their lives scripted by a small elite. They stand up, not only for their colleagues, their students, and the families they work with, but for all Americans who see Democracy eroding before their eyes. I am proud to be associated with so many heroes, who stand up and speak out in much more daunting circumstances than I face. I just try to provide words for their actions

Sunday, November 17, 2013

10 Things BATS Know About Common Core- Official Statement

10 Things BATs Know about Common Core

BATs continue their fight against the CCSS.  We do not believe in a “one-size” fits all standard for education and we do not believe in a top down federal approach to control education for profit.  BATs fight the CCSS for a variety of reasons but specifically we know that the CCSS doesn’t make up good education and will not fix, nor lower, our child poverty rate.  This document hopes to clear up a few things:  1. Dispel some of the myths about the CCSS as superior set of educational standards.  2. Give readers a clear vision of what these standards look like from the lens of the practitioners who teach our most vulnerable children – those in poverty.  3.  Finally it hopes to set a course for BATs  to advocate strongly for our children who live in poverty, who must be forced to overcome it without the supports and resources they need in our schools.  BATs are committed to raise their voice to advocate for an educational system that helps to provide some relief to children who suffer from the trauma of poverty.  WE use the word “some relief” in this missive because schools and teachers cannot eradicate poverty and we feel  the government must begin to acknowledge that children in poverty don’t succeed in school because of poverty.   Poverty will follow  children no matter where you want to send them to school via a charter or a voucher.  Poverty will follow a child no matter who teaches them – TFA or a highly qualified teacher.  BATs are firmly committed to  expose that CC, charters, vouchers, or TFA will not eradicate poverty and corporate reformers attempts to divert the conversation away from child poverty is nothing short of abuse.


A. The CCSS have never been subjected to any research studies linking them to readiness of any kind.
B. Standard #1 reads “entry-level college” which could mean a 2 year community college or vocational school.
C. All children are not or will not be “College and Career Ready” for many different reasons.
D. The expense of implementing and assessing of the CCSS causes electives such as art, music, and sports to be cut from schools which prevents students from discovering future interests and talents.
E. Review the types of Common Core work children are doing--how does it reflect what they need to know for the workplace?  The CCSS does not even live up to its stated goals to teach real world skills needed for the workplace.
F. Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute predicted that the CCSS would have little to no effect on academic achievement.  He noted that from 2003-2009 states with good standards raised their NAEP scores by roughly the same margin as the states with bad standards .
G. The way that the CCSS is designed is that if a child is chronically transient, they will be behind regardless--even more so with a curriculum two grade levels above a developmentally appropriate one!


A.  The groups that created the CCSS--Achieve and The National Governors Association--received funding from The Gates Foundation, and created the CCSS with almost no input from teachers.  The only educational experts were board members from publishing companies who will benefit financially from the implementation of CCSS. Teachers learned about the CCSS after they were written.
B.  A check of one’s State Board of Education meeting minutes will show that states were forced to adopt the standards in order to apply for Federal Race to The Top Funds.
C. States signed onto the CCSS before the standards were completed and unveiled.
E. Many states and districts are already withdrawing from CCSS for financial and other reasons.
F. Race to the Top had a $5 billion dollar price tag.  Arne Duncan set the conditions for the “race.”  To be eligible, states had to agree to adopt the CCSS and tests.
G. Billionaire entrepreneurs entered the education market due to the $5 billion which was up for grabs.  Consultants and vendors offered services to  districts, and publishing companies hurried to align their products with CCSS.  For example, Denver spent 35% of its budget on consultants instead of students, teachers, or schools.
H. The Gates Foundation supported the creation, evaluations, and promotion of the CCSS.
I. States had to agree to Arne Duncan’s conditions to receive a waiver from NCLB, and one of those conditions was to accept CCSS .
A. This is true, but the standards were written without the creation of materials, so some states like New York have created “modules” that are curriculum and script teachers.
B. The mandated (expensive and error-riddled) tests that accompany the CCSS will be the de facto curriculum.  What is tested is what will be taught.
C. Due to its heavy reliance on testing, schools will feel the need to implement curriculum aligned with the CCSS.  Many school districts have neither the time nor the funding to develop these aligned curriculums.  The companies that have had the largest input into the CCSS, do have curriculum designed to be aligned to the tests.  While the CCSS doesn’t directly tell schools what they need to teach, it does make it difficult for students to do well on the test unless they’ve had a curriculum aligned with the test.
A. Students are tested without regard to accommodations as legally mandated by IEP’s.
B. No modifications or adjustments are made for students with disabilities or English Language Learners.
C. Teachers are not allowed to see the assessments in order to diagnose children and to further their instruction of them and the class.
D. Assessments will be moved to computer assessments.  Children will be required to do this without keyboarding skills and little contact time with the teacher.  Prolonged computer use can lead to vision problems and carpel tunnel syndrome.
E. The claim that CCSS assessments are better than other standardized tests is fallacious.  For example, they were tested  in 2013 in NYS and 70% of children failed them.
F. CCSS Assessments like PARCC/SBAC do not take into account the special issues of rural schools, many of which do not have enough computers or server space for the information.  MANY SCHOOLS WILL BE FORCED INTO MAKING DIFFICULT BUDGET CUTS IN ORDER TO AFFORD TO THESE TESTS!
G. National standards and tests have been purposely designed to create a national marketplace for more curriculum and testing products, not to better public education.  This reveals a disingenuous agenda.

A. The implementation of Common Core has already begun to eliminate vocational and technical education in many districts and states.  These massive cuts restrict our students’ options to explore 21st century careers.
B. The cost to implement and assess the CCSS have caused huge cuts in music, art, and hands-on science. Research overwhelmingly validates the positive effects of music and the arts for improving learning, social skills, and, ironically, test scores.  Cutting hands-on science makes no sense given the importance being placed on STEM.
C. Problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity are skills needed for the challenges of the 21st century, but they won’t be taught because they aren’t part of the CCSS assessments.
D. As the world changes rapidly, our students must be taught to be flexible in how they think.  The CCSS emphasizes rote memorization and teaching to the bubble/computer tests instead of preparing them for the future.

A.  A check with the Department of Education in one’s state will show the percentage of children    affected by transiency.  Does this percentage warrant a standardized curriculum for all children?
B. Public school students are a highly diverse group which includes many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and learning difficulties. This tremendous range of needs and accommodations must be considered.  No single education plan (especially one designed by mostly non-educators) is capable of meeting the needs of all children across the U.S.
C. The way that the CCSS is designed is that if a child is chronically transient, they will be behind regardless--even more so with a curriculum two grade levels above a developmentally appropriate one!

Research the authors of the CCSS to determine if they are authentic leaders in higher education. Google their curriculum vitae to determine the breadth and depth of their contributions to research and literature on domain-specific knowledge as it relates to future success.  What are their contributions towards ensuring a free public education for all children?

A. The CCSS were not benchmarked against other countries’ standards.  CCSS were created in a “top down” approach with no regard for the primary grades.  Many countries do not set standards for their youngest learners.
B. If states are satisfied with their existing standards, why would communities want anything different? For example, Maryland’s schools are excellent, so why would they be forced to change their standards?
C. The world’s top performing countries don’t place much, if any, emphasis on testing.  Finland has one of the best education systems in the world, and it relies on teacher autonomy and less testing in order to achieve this.  These tests are nothing more than the precursor for national standardized testing. They are culturally biased, incapable of measuring non-verbal learning or complex thought, and will ultimately cost more than they’re worth .

A. Students are not being asked to explain their thinking; they are having strategies forced upon them, and they are being tested on test strategy not thinking skills.
B. The CCSS math places students an average of two years behind math programs that exist currently.  In a technological society, having less access to higher forms of math is detrimental to student advancement post high school, and places them behind for college expectations.
C. The CCSS in math are so lacking, that the only mathematician on the CCSS validation committee refused to sign off on them.
D. School districts’ budgets will be stretched so tight, there will have to be program cuts in order to buy the materials and equipment needed to teach and assess the CCSS.  The economic burden on districts will be to the detriment of programs that kids need and love.
E. The companies that had the greatest input in designing CCSS will be the ones selling the textbooks and presenting (for hefty fees paid by taxpayers) at teacher training seminars.
F. Standards call for changes in testing, which means changes in learning opportunities.  Most important to the CCSS are testing outcomes; therefore, learning will be restricted to what is tested.

A. The CCSS places more emphasis on reading informational texts (government pamphlets, heater instructions, technical manuals) than on classical literature.
B. The CCSS presents historical text out of context (or with no context); therefore, students will  not gain a broad understanding of the text.
C. The CCSS gives historical text isolated from the event in history from which it came.  It is a shallow reading, a reading that doesn’t encourage students to question what the author may have meant, a reading that doesn’t teach them how to recognize symbolism, motivation or multiple meanings, and takes the flavor out of the text
D. The CCSS insistence on reading in isolation does not encourage students to develop life-long love of reading, which is critical for developing higher-level thinking and analytical skills.

BAT TEACHERS TEACHING KIDS IN POVERTY USING CC – All of the teachers who responded teach in high poverty districts – here is their experience with Common Core.

  1.  Since CC  has been implemented in our school I cannot run our music program
  2. Since CC no seat time can be lost for students to participate in choral groups, getting string and band lessons started was delayed
  3. I cannot jump into the CC lessons via EngageNY because my students are so far behind
  4. My students already feel inadequate and now they are more frustrated.  They often ask, “Why do we have to keep taking all these tests.”
  5. All the data that has come with CC, testing, and new reform, and the entering of that data by teachers, has taken me away from the kids.
  6. Instead of thinking how to make lessons fun and interesting for kids, I have to think of how it applies to CC – shouldn’t education be about kids?
  7. EngageNY Math modules are impossible to finish with students who come to us behind in their academic ability to do math.  We don’t have the materials required to teach and we have no time to remediate if the kids need time.
  8. We are expected to get our students on or above grade level but they come to us below grade level.
  9. I have students who are attending school for the first time in their lives and can’t read the language nor write it
  10. My average class size is 30-35 students and I have a complete lack of resources to teach CC to kids who are working behind grade level
  11. I have students who are 15 years old and in their first year of high school – they can’t read or write English but are expected to deal with “complex text” in CC
  12. I am teaching, demonstrating, acting out vocabulary for our core reading stories.  For most of my students the higher thinking activities are not where they are academically
  13. CC expects projects but students are unable to work at home
  14. CC packs my schedule with math computer lab, language computer lab, writing program, word study that we do not have time to work on projects
  15. CC has caused me to miss out on creative learning opportunities due to testing, testing, testing to the CC
  16. My students hate school because they are frustrated and bored; CC has turned them off.
  17. I cannot teach the 2B modules for 3rd grade ELA because I have none of the books.  2B was supposed to be out in November and is still not out.
  18. My kids find the math confusing and the tests don’t test what they expect us to teach.  The kids take the tests after working so hard to learn the concepts, fail the tests, and get frustrated.
  19. I have been a teacher in a high poverty district for 13 years, I have never seen anything like what my kids have had to endure this year under CC and NCLB waivers
  20. We have spent the first 2 ½ months of school testing – the kids are already burnt out
  21. I have a class of 27 students.  5 parents are incarcerated, 3 students are homeless, 4 have no winter clothing, 21 are on free/reduced lunch –they have bigger issues to worry about other than being “college and career ready.”
  22. Since implementing CC I have noticed an increase in anxious and aggressive behavior – Students are chewing the erasers and metal off their pencils and eating it.  They are chewing on their pants, shirts, and sleeves and making holes in them.  They are using pens and markers to write on themselves.
  23. Since implementing CC I have noticed an increase in suicidal statements; why? Because we are giving them 8 different learning targets each day.  We’ve cut recess and crammed more kids into the cafeteria for lunch to maximize learning time.  We are making them self-regulate with a gazillion transitions and center activities while we test and re-teach and differentiate.
  24. What does text complexity level mean, and who gets to decide?  There is a huge body of research that confirms teaching children at frustration reading levels is harmful.
  25. The cancelled art in my school because it cut into test prep.
  26. The CC is too much for children never exposed to early childhood classes
  27. They removed all the blocks, housekeeping, playdoh, puzzles, and art centers from my 1st grade classroom
  28. The curriculum for my 1st grade class is similar to 2nd and 3rd grade – my students feign illness, act irrational as a direct result of the testing and Common Core.
  29. Here is what I can’t do anymore – plays, celebrations, holidays, show and tell, student-led learning, performance assessments, service learning, class meetings, gardens, and arts.
  30. CC is not the answer to urban education.  I struggle teaching my third graders the basics they need.  My students come to me far behind.  I feel like I am teaching far over their heads
  31. Students I teach don’t get the abstract, they get the concrete.  Explaining multiplication and division to students who are still counting on their fingers is very difficult.  Getting them to see the connections between reading and writing is very difficult
  32. I find the math EngageNY math modules poorly crafted and inappropriate for the age I teach.  It is causing my students so much stress.

Concluding Statement
The CCSS will not be the magic wand that will end child poverty in this nation.  BATs know this and will fight the hoax that it will.  Child poverty will not end with vouchers, charters, and CCSS.  Poverty will follow all children to these places.  It has already been seen that increased charters, voucher systems, and increase of TFA in our poverty communities DOES NOT ELEVIATE the effect that the trauma of poverty has on children and their education.  Child poverty rates continue to increase and by accepting that CCSS, Vouchers, and Charters will cure child poverty we are absolving the government to do something about it. 
That being said, BATs and other warriors that fight the corporate takeover of our public schools needs to think what will happen when we do defeat corporate “reform?” What will schools look like that educate our most vulnerable children – those in poverty.  Child poverty will not magically end with the defeat of CC, Charters, Vouchers, or TFA – BATs will commit their voices to making sure that the government be held accountable for not addressing that this is the main reason why children don’t succeed in school. BATs will commit their voices towards the fight that schools in poverty communities must be reworked to meet the distinct needs of all their children.  BATs will commit their voices to make all schools a respite from poverty for children and to hold those accountable who continue to dismiss it as the leading factor of why children don’t succeed in school.

1.        http://www.
2.       BATs – Oral History
3.       Ravitch, Diane; Reign of Error

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What Schools in NYC Need- A Message from the BK Nation Education Forum

On Thursday, in Judson Memorial Church, a group of students, parents, teachers, principals and education researchers brought together by the new organization BK Nation had a frank discussion of what can be done to improve the public schools of New York City. Most of those on the panel and in the audience worked at, taught at, or attended schools in high poverty neighborhoods, and spoke with great eloquence about what is happening in those schools, how misguided current policies are, and what needs to change. Here is my summary of the points of agreement of people at the Forum. They represent a chilling commentary on everything that is wrong with dominant Education policies not only in New York City, but cities across the nation

1. Students in the city's poorest neighborhoods and lowest performing schools, especially those designated for closing or phasing out, feel that they have been abandoned, disrespected, and deprived of real opportunities to improve their situation. The pain they feel has no real outlet and never finds its way into the media or into the calculations of those shaping education policy. We have to find a way of inspiring them, caring for them, and giving them an outlet for their talents.

2. Teachers around the city, especially veteran teachers and teacher of color, feel almost as marginalized and disrespected as their students. The last administration has done terrible damage to the morale of the city's teaching staff by derogatory comments about the city's public school teachers. We need to celebrate our teachers, not constantly denounce them

3. We have to get away from scripted curriculum and start creating culturally relevant pedagogy to inspire our youth. If that means ditching Common Core, it means ditching Common Core. We need to connect young people to their families, their neighborhood and school traditions, and to cultural traditions that empower them rather than marginalize them. And school cultures should be built around those traditions.

4. We need to recruit and retain teachers of color, and teachers of any background who grew up in high needs communities, who students can relate to and encourage them live in the communities they teach in. This may mean radically revising patterns of teacher recruitment, as well as incentive systems to keep our best teachers

5. We need to ways to assess student performance that are more flexible and holistic than the one's currently used. That means moving away from bubble tests for rating students, and eliminating them entirely as way of rating teachers. We also need to expand the number of schools who use such alternative assessments and are exempt from state tests

6. We need to do everything in our power to encourage student and parent activism and transform schools into community institutions where both of those groups feel they have a voice

7. We need to nurture community building within schools, and relationship building as a central component of teaching. This involves respecting freedom of speech and freedom of expression among everyone in schools- teachers, students, parents- and encouraging cooperation, not competition, as the most important value in school communities

8. We need to stop the destructive practice of closing allegedly "failing" schools, and find ways of helping them serve their students and families better. Closing schools sends a profoundly discouraging and destructive message to teachers and students

9. We should look up schools as places where activists and change makers are nurtured, not conformists who seek individual mobility at the expense of those around them

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My Short Program for Improving Public Schools in NYC

Here is my short program for improving public education in NYC which I am presenting at BK nation forum tonight

1. Cut testing budget in half and use funds to lower class size
2. Stop school gradings and school closings
3. Triple the number of portfolio schools in NYC exempt from all state tests
4. No testing below grade-3. Exemption of ELL and special needs students from state tests
5. Withdraw from Common Core. Let teachers develop curriculum.
6. Fund arts, agriculture and community history
7. Reinvest in technical and vocational education
8. No evaluation of teachers based on student test scores

School Reform: A Discourse Of Lies Parading Behind Honorable Ideals

I have been fighting since I was an 8 year old growing up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood and the battle to defend public education in the US may be the hardest one I have ever been in. Never has so much big money been amassed behind an effort to control, discipline and regulate the children of this nation. That money,selectively distributed by those who possess it, paralyzes and demoralizes many people who should know better and creates a discourse of lies that parades behind lip service to honorable ideals. But in joining the revolt against this, first wondering whether I was alone, and then finding a growing army of people willing to stand up and court ridicule, abuse, and sometimes loss of employment, I have met some of the most courageous, honorable and talented people I have encountered anywhere. I feel blessed to be in the trenches with them, and to count a growing number as friends. There is no turning back now. Our movement is growing. But our love for children is what motivates us to endure the highs and lows of a very difficult battle against cruel , arrogant and very powerful enemies

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Regents Chair Tisch and Chancellor King give a Lesson on How Not to Be a Leader

Last night's forum at Ward Melville HS in Suffolk County once again revealed why Regents Chair Merryl Tisch and Chancellor John King are poorly equipped to lead the public schools of New York State and why their actions, as well as their policies, have triggered one of the largest parent revolts in modern American history.

In the face of incredibly moving testimony from parents and teachers about the damage done to children, teachers and families by the sudden imposition of Common Core aligned tests, their affect never changed.
There was not a sign of sympathy, empathy, or understanding coming from either person, nor an indication that anyone's arguments were being heard.

Indeed, both gave the impression that they were accustomed to having their instructions followed religiously by those in their charge, and were impatient with anything but blind obedience.

This approach would be counterproductive even if they had vast experience working in public schools, and or the stature that comes from years of education scholarship tested by the debates that published works inevitably inspire

But since Tisch and King have neither of these attributes, their arrogance, insensitivity, and immunity to argument and evidence infuriated virtually everyone in the room and as well as the thousands of people who have had a chance to see the videos of their "performance."

If you were going to give a lesson on how NOT to be a leader, you would do well to use the video of Regents Chair Tisch and Chancellor King's response to testimony last night.

The eloquence of the parents and teachers who spoke, compared to their tired invocation of college readiness as though it nullified every tale of damage, confusion and abuse, exposed their total lack of fitness for the positions their hold.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On Today's Protest Against NY Ed Commissioner King at Ward Melville HS


Woke up this morning in a GREAT MOOD, ready to join THOUSANDS of Long Island parents, teachers and students at 5:45 protesting another closed forum sponsored by NY Ed Commissioner John King at Ward Melville HS in East Setauket. Since Commissioner King seems constitutionally incapable of actually listening to parents, teachers and principals, I doubt if this demonstration will have any immediate effect on State Education policy, but it will send a powerful message to elected officials that King and Regents Chair Merryl Tisch need to go; and if those politicians don't listen, will lead to a Test Revolt and Opt Out movement of EPIC PROPORTIONS next spring. Equally important, this demonstration, which is likely to be quite large, will give a shot in the arm to people all over the nation fighting the insane tests and assessments that have descended upon the nations public schools

There will be pictures and videos forthcoming- and maybe someone will even live-stream the rally. As for me, it's a chance to reconnect with heroes of the Long Island Test Revolt from last April, as well as meet new heroes who have stepped forward this fall!!

History is being made, once again, on Long Island!!! Join us if you can. Root for us if you can't!

Here is a little rap I wrote for today's protest

 I’ve got a message for Commissioner King
Whose policies are driven by Corporate Bling
Because your tests have sanctioned child abuse
A Sleeping Giant is now on the loose
Of parents and teachers who’ve had enough
Of officials who feed at Pearson’s trough
We’re rising back to take back our schools
From State officials who treat us like fools
Our cry is resounding  through the entire nation

It’s time for the Commissioner’s resignation.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why BATS is Militantly Pro-Union as Well As Against Common Core

Unions are the best protection for the living standards of workers and the best defenders of workers rights at the workplace. The powerful interests who have worked to undermine unions and drive union membership from 35 percent of the work force when i was growing up to less than 13 percent today have helped transform the US from the most equal nation in the industrialized world to the most unequal. Teachers unions are a bulwark against the massive destruction of the nation's shrinking middle class as well as a force defending public education and public schools. They also protect teachers against nepotism, favoritism, authoritarian management, and witch hunts led by politicians, the press, and occasionally by parents. That's why I am a strong supporter of Teachers Unions. And why BATS proclaims itself "Militantly Pro-Union" as well as "Militantly Anti-Common Core."

Friday, November 8, 2013

Powerful Speech to Her Local Rotary Club by a North Carolina Teacher

Cristi Lackey Julsrud

 Hi BATs! As my school's teacher of the year, I was invited to speak at our local Rotary Club for their monthly luncheon. The people there were representatives from the business community. I was supposed to talk about my school, and myself , and my teaching, and how everything is all hunky-dory, but when it came right down to it I just couldn't lead those people to believe that everything is great. So I wrote this. A few of my badass teacher friends told me I should share it with you all. The speech was very well-received, and I was given an invitation by one of the members to publish it in our town's literary magazine! I hope you enjoy, because I never would have had the guts to deliver it if it weren't for this amazing group

. As I considered what to say about my school, and myself, and education in general, I kept returning to one thing. Politicians, you know, would have us believe that education is a “race to the top,” and that schools benefit from competition with one another in a free market system. If there is one thing that I can say with certainty about education, it is this: if we are in a race, fully half of the participants never knew they were in a race to begin with, most of them never intended to enter, and some of them walked over the starting line, laid down, and were never heard from again. “Race to the top” is a TERRIBLE analogy for education. I believe a much more apt analogy is a boat. Education is like a boat. Some of us start out on it. The boat is leaky. It is understaffed. It smells. BAD. The food is horrible. Some of the crew members keep jumping overboard. From this boat, we cast out lines to the hundreds of fish around us in the water. Some of the fish bite readily; others are more cautious. As for me, I like to bait my hook with something meaty: To Kill a Mockingbird, Shakespeare, traditional English grammar, the Constitution, Patrick Henry’s speeches, Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Some of the fish think the bait is too big to swallow. Some think the bait is dry, or old, or just not the kind of food they want. Some bite at first, but are convinced by other fish that the bait is “uncool.” Some have the bait yanked away from them by well-meaning adult fish. Some are eaten by sharks, dragged down by seaweed, snared by other nets (because this ocean is full of poachers, and they have much nicer nets than we can afford). However, we keep on fishing through it all-- storms, sharks, poachers. Sometimes, you catch a fish, and I wish I could say that makes it all worth it. And it does, sort of. 

But it’s hard to ignore the fact that every year the boat gets leakier, the smell gets worse, and the bites get fewer and farther between. You see, the ocean is where our students live. They are literally surrounded by circumstances which we cannot control. Poverty, apathy, unemployment, hunger-- all these are sharks which circle them. Self-doubt, fear, and bullying threaten to pull down others. And the ocean itself is ignorance. The lines we throw are not just to catch them, they are life-lines. We must make them see that the boat that we are on may not look like much, but the land we are going to will not only allow them to escape the ocean, but will also give them wings to fly. I wish I could stand here and tell you all of the wonderful things my school is doing. I wish I could tell you the incredible outpouring of love, support, and FIRE that has been poured out just this week from our staff.
 I wish I had time to tell you every story of a student who found his wings, just like I promised he would. I have the stories. They happen all the time. But the truth of the matter is that education right now is a battlefield. Politicians are seeking to demoralize and destroy public education, corporations are circling to pick us apart and sell off the pieces, many parents are apathetic, and society offers a multitude of cures for the ills of an education. Know that I, and all of the staff at my school, and countless others like us across the country, put on our combat boots every day, board the boat amidst the gunfire, and we cast our lines to the fish in the water, and we TEACH. Because we believe in this boat. We believe in its power. We believe in our kids, and most of all we believe that if we allow the war on education to continue, we will all lose, every one of us. Because we are all in this together, whether we are in the water, on the boat, or whether we have already arrived at a place where we have wings. We desire your support, we covet your prayers, and we need YOU to believe in us.

While Diane Ravitch Recovers, the BATS will Carry on Her Work

As we all hope and pray for Diane Ravitch's full recovery, let us take a moment to contemplate what with her full and enthusiastic support, this group has accomplished. In five short months, we have built an organization that has as much, or more public presence, as any Astro-Turf school reform organization funded by billionaires, and a lot more grassroots support. And the best is yet to come. Our July 28 Teachers March on Washington will send a powerful message to elected officials around the country that using teachers as punching bags and selling off our public schools to the highest bidder carries a steep political price. 

So lets take a deep breath, make sure we take care of ourselves- because none of us are Superwoman or Superman-and get back to work.

Diane. We love you! BATS will carry on your legacy, and bring life to your ideas. Count on it!!!

Tennessee BAT Tales- Installment Two

I changed schools last year to be closer to home and to work in the community in which I live. Previously, I was driving an hour each way to a job I loved, but the distance got to me. I teach middle grades math, which I have taught for 15 years. My current school is a rural, preK-12 school with relatively high free-and-reduced numbers. The teachers before me, who have been let go or reassigned, left students unprepared to meet the demands of the relatively complex concepts in our curriculum. Last year, my students’ TCAP scores were not good, and I am now in a position where their scores MUST go up significantly in order to save my teaching license. The ramifications of the very bad scores are humiliating and demeaning. I have learned that a number of the ‘special’ considerations I work within are a result of the quest for additional RttT funding. Let me try to delineate some of these ‘special’ things: I am not allowed to teach any student that scored ‘below basic’ on the TCAP, resulting in having to split two grade levels between myself and another teacher rather than each of us teaching a single grade level. She got all the so-called ‘low’ kids, I got the rest. I have to be evaluated umpteen times by, not just one, but two administrators during every evaluative observation. One from my building, one from central office. The two evaluators observe together and collaborate on their judgment and rating of me. I have to meet with the county-wide math coach weekly for discussions and, supposedly, non-evaluative (ha) informal observations. (Our math coach was probably in middle school when I started teaching.) In addition, I am told I have to administer the PARCC pilot in the spring and was told how ‘lucky’ I am because I get to see what the questions/problems will be like, etc. As a result of my questioning and concerns about the so-called PARCC pilot, I am told the same security parameters will be in place as are in place for TCAP. That includes the teacher NOT seeing/reading the test. OK… so they lied about that one. Also, PARCC is going to be administered via computer but, after asking more questions, I was told the PARCC pilot will be a paper-and-pencil test. How is that a pilot test if the pilot test and the actual test are administered in a completely different format? Furthermore, the online PARCC test will have a four-function calculator embedded in specific items that are calculator-allowable. How will that be accomplished in a paper-and-pencil pilot test? They could not give a definitive answer. I also inquired about how the results will be used and if there will be an evaluative component of the PARCC pilot. The response I got was that the results are not used in any evaluative capacity, but are sent off to be scored by some unnamed entity, which I assume may be Pearson? I don’t know, but the response was vague, at best. What is the point of administering such a test? I want to know EXACTLY what is done with those results, but it’s apparently a well-guarded secret. OR, is it one more thing that hasn’t been carefully planned and discussed? Our district admins jump on the Haslam-Huffman bandwagon with whatever they propose or suggest. Many, including me, believe they aspire to ranks of BOE in Nashville. Our admins have conducted numerous closed-door tongue-lashings, whipping people for questioning decisions, or voicing any kind of disapproval of their policies. Many personnel changes have occurred that were done with a footnote from district admins, telling those affected not to question the change. They were basically told to ‘shut up, suck it up.’ They are tyrannical bullies. As you might guess, morale is in the gutter. Trust is a thing of the past. Teachers are leaving or making definitive plans to leave and pursue other avenues. They aren’t just leaving our school or our district, they are leaving the profession.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tennessee BAT Tales- Installment One

Here is what is happening in Tennessee. For the past few years, working conditions for teachers and learning conditions for students have gotten progressively worse. The emphasis on testing is hurting our schools. Teachers and students are constantly preparing, taking, or reviewing tests. Many teachers are afraid to teach anything that “isn’t on the test.” 

Teacher evaluations and jobs are now tied to students’ test scores. Teachers are not even sure exactly how they are tied. Evaluations include TVAAS scores, and no one at the State level will disclose exactly HOW those scores are calculated. Scores are not only tied to teacher jobs, but also a student’s final grade. EOC’s ( End of Course Tests ) count for 25% of students’ grades in English. Teachers in a high-poverty school, that have a large number of students who speak English as a Second Language, are pretty much doomed. 

Students are burnt-out on tests. At some schools, the only grades that count on a student’s report card are test grades. Schools have adopted Standards -Based Grading which means that students who complete all of their work, but can’t pass the tests, are still given failing grades. It’s sad. Students want their bellwork, homework and classwork to count towards their grade- but teachers aren’t allowed to count it. 

The assessment that comes with Common Core is far more demanding than the EOC test that TN gives now. If large percentages of students aren’t passing the test TN has now, how is it going to help them to give them a much harder test? Teacher morale is low. Kids are sick, bored, and stressed from too much testing.

Our Children's Grim Future

Our children are being prepared, through relentless testing, now beginning as early as pre-K, for a world in which they are constantly going to be observed, monitored, evaluated, and measured in every dimension of their life, a world with little privacy, and shrinking opportunity. What is happening to their teachers is what awaits them in almost every occupation they choose to enter. If we don't resist now, if we don't stop the test machine in its tracks, their futures will be grim. I wish I thought otherwise.... but the handwriting is on the wall.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The BATS, Diane Ravitch, and the DeBlasio Victory

Bill DeBlasio, a candidate who decisively rejected most of Michael Bloomberg's Corporate Education Reform agenda, has just won election as Mayor of NYC with a 49 Percentage Point Margin, the largest any mayor has achieved since 1985. Although Education was not the only area where Mr DeBlasio sought to sharply distinguish himself from his predecessor, opposition to excessive testing and school closings , and support for pre- school and after school programs, were pivots of his winning formula and was one of the reasons that Diane Ravitch, and many NYC BATS, mobilized so aggressively behind his campaign.

I still remember that night in July when my wife Liz and I attended a fundraiser for Bill DeBlasio sponsored by Diane Ravitch at the home of her son Michael, a parent in my wife Liz's schools, and a former leader of the gay right group Act- Up. At that time, Mr. DeBlasio was still an underdog in the Democratic Primary, and Liz and I attended more because we mistrusted the other candidates education platforms and because we respected Diane, than because we thought DeBlasio could win

Well two things happened that even which proved to be prophetic:

First DeBlasio gave an amazing speech that evening, not only presenting his positions on housing, health care, education and law enforcement with great eloquence, but convincing everyone there that he had put together a coalition that had a real chance of winning.

And second, Diane Ravitch, pulled me aside, told me she loved the BATS, and told me she hoped we would become the "ACT-UP" of the movement against Corporate Education Reform, using confrontation, humor and innovative tactics to take it to the Deformers aggressively than more conventional groups could

Well, it's four month later guess what. Bill DeBlasio is Mayor of new York City and our very own New Jersey BAT ,Meliissa Tominson (aka Love Light) confronted Chris Christie on the campaign trail in a manner that did not derail his gubernatorial campaign, but will haunt him in the future when he tries to run for President, while giving teachers all over the country a sense of their own power.

For the last ten years, or more, teachers in the US have been a sleeping giant. 
Now they are awakening, and the rise of this group has been an integral part of that awakening

Congratulations Mayor DeBlasio. Go BATS!!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Melissa Tomlinson's "Rosa Parks" Moment

This is an amazing moment in the history of Public Education discourse. Our own Melissa Tomlinson, a long time public school teacher from New Jersey known to all BATS as "Love Light" has engineered a media breakthrough of unimaginable proportions. Not only has her story of being bullied by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie been on numerous national media outlets, not only did she present her side of the conflict with great eloquence on the Ed Show, but her letter to Governor Christie has, of this moment, registered 115,500 views on my blog and is being posted on a growing number of education websites.

Think about what just happened. A public school teacher, with no name recognition and no official position has, through courage and force of intellect, made herself a major figure in public discourse about education policy. This is something which, to my knowledge, has almost never taken place in recent years. A representative of the one group who has been excluded from policy discussions about education has crashed the policy makers party. And done so with grace, dignity and  eloquence. What she has done reminds me of what the great Rosa Parks did in Montgomery Alabama nearly sixty years ago. Though she was not arrested for her actions,  she demonstrated her clear moral superiority to the powerful official  who tried to silence her and became a symbol of resistance to thousands, perhaps millions, of others in her position.

I feel proud to have known and worked with Melissa Tomlinson. And so proud of everyone who has made the group she is part of such a force on the national scene

This is a huge breakthrough for  every teacher in the country whose voice has been silenced and  whose competence and right to speak on the issues of the day has been mocked

Monday, November 4, 2013

Teachers Enemies are in BOTH Major Parties

As we watch, with excitement and some trepidation, how our Hero-BAT Love Light is being given national exposure because of her campaign trail encounter with Republican Gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie, let us remember that there are two other Presidential aspirants in the New York Metropolitan area- both of them Democrats-whose positions on education issues are indistinguishable from that of Christie: New Jersey Senator elect Cory Booker, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. They may not engage in the kind of theatrical display of teacher bullying that Governor Cristie gave us, but attacks on teachers and teachers unions are integral part of the political formula they hope will elevate them to the White House and they draw funds and advisors from Astro Turf school reform groups the same way Cristie's does.

The lesson here- BATS must not let what happened to Love Light be spun into a partisan political message that makes it seem as though the major threat to teachers stems from the Republican Party. There are awful education policies being pushed by Republican governors in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina, to name a few, but let us remember that the largest test revolt in US history occurred, and is still gaining steam in New York State, against the policies of a Democratic governor, that Democratic Governors in Connecticut and Rhode Island are widely despised by teachers in those states, and that Democratic Mayors in Chicago and Philadelphia have been enthusiastic supporters of charterization, school closings and teacher firings on a grand scale.

The stronger BATS become, the more our members emerge as heroic figures of resistance to policies that are losing their luster, the more vigilant we must be against attempts to divide us along partisan lines and undermine the principles that have allowed us to become this strong in the first place.

Non partisanship is the rock upon which the rise of BATS has been built, and it must remain a central feature of our identity as we gain national attention for our ideas.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Letter to Governor Christie from the New Jersey Teacher He Screamed At

Dear Governor Christie, Yesterday I took the opportunity to come hear you speak on your campaign trail. I have never really heard you speak before except for sound bytes that I get on my computer. I don't have cable, I don't read newspapers. I don't have enough time. I am a public school teacher that works an average of 60 hours a week in my building. Yes, you can check with my principal. I run the after-school program along with my my classroom position. I do even more work when I am at home. For verification of this, just ask my children. I asked you one simple question yesterday. I wanted to know why you portray NJ Public Schools as failure factories. Apparently that question struck a nerve. When you swung around at me and raised your voice, asking me what I wanted, my first response “I want more money for my students.” Notice, I did not ask for more money for me. I did not ask for my health benefits, my pension, a raise, my tenure, or even my contract that I have not had for nearly three years. We got into a small debate about how much money has been spent on education. Too me, there is never enough money that is spent on education. To invest in education is to invest in our future. We cannot keep short-changing our children and taking away opportunities for them to explore and learn. As more money is required for state-mandated curriculum changes and high-stakes standardized testing, it is our children that are losing. Programs are being cut all over the state as budget changes are forcing districts to cut music, art, after-school transportation, and youth-centered clubs. But let's put money aside for a moment. What do I want? What do 'we people' want? We want to be allowed to teach. Do you know that the past two months has been spent of our time preparing and completing paperwork for the Student Growth Objectives? Assessments were created and administered to our students on material that we have not even taught yet. Can you imagine how that made us feel? The students felt like they were worthless for not having any clue how to complete the assessments. The teachers felt like horrible monsters for having to make the students endure this. How is that helping the development of a child? How will that help them see the value in their own self-worth. This futile exercise took time away from planning and preparing meaningful lessons as well as the time spent in class actually completing the assessments. The evaluations have no statistical worth and has even been recognized as such by the NJ Department of Education. I am all for evaluation of a teacher. I recognize that I should be held accountable for my job. This does not worry me, as long as I am evaluated on my methods of teaching. I can not be held wholly accountable for the learning growth of a student when I am not accountable for all of the factors that influence this growth. Are you aware that poverty is the biggest determination of a child's educational success. If not, I suggest you read Diane Ravitch's new book Reign of Error. Take a moment and become enlightened. Getting back to the issue of money. I am fully aware of our educational budget. Where is all of this money? To me it seems like it is being siphoned right off into the hands of private companies as they reap the benefits of the charter schools and voucher programs that you have put into place. It certainly hasn't gone to improve school conditions in urban areas such as Jersey City. The conditions that these students and teachers are forced to be in are horrifying. Yet you are not allowing the funds needed to improve these conditions. Are you hoping that these schools get closed down and more students are forced to go to private charter schools while the districts are being forced to pay their tuition? I know for a fact that this is what has happened in Camden and Newark. Yet these charter schools are not held to the same accountability as our public schools. Why is that? Because deep down you know that you are not really dealing with the issues that influence a child's education. You are simply putting a temporary band-aid into place. Unfortunately that temporary fix is already starting to be exposed as Charter Schools are showing that they actually are not able to do better than public schools. You are setting up teachers to take the blame for all of this. You have portrayed us as greedy, lazy money-draining public servants that do nothing. I invite you to come do my job for one week Governor Christie. I invite you to come see my students, see how little they really have during the school day as they are being forced to keep learning for a single snapshot of their educational worth. For that one end-all, be-all test, the NJASK. The one that the future of my job and my life is now based upon. Why do you portray schools as failure factories? What benefit do you reap from this? Have you acquired financial promises for your future campaigns as you eye the presidential nomination? Has there been back-room meetings as you agree to divert public funds to private companies that are seeking to take over our public educational system? This is my theory. To accomplish all of this, you are setting up the teachers to take the blame. Unfortunately, you are not the only governor in our country that has this agenda. What do “we people' want, Governor Christie? We want our schools back. We want to teach. We want to be allowed to help these children to grow, educationally, socially, and emotionally. We want to be respected as we do this, not bullied. BadAss Teacher, Melissa Tomlinson