On My Son’s First Day of Kindergarten: OurSchoolsAreNotFailing.org organizes communities to defend their schools from NCLB

Today is the first day of school in Seattle. I have never been more excited and nervous for the first day because, not only do I start teaching, but my 5-year-old starts kindergarten! My son is so thrilled for his first day of school and our family feels so fortunate to have such a wonderful public school to send him to.

Unfortunately, the irreparably flawed No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has cast a shadow on what should be a joyous start to the year. As explained below, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan revoked the NCLB waiver for Washington state because our legislature would not tie teacher evaluations to test scores. Revoking the NCLB waiver then labeled nearly every school in the state a failure and mandated that districts notify parents that their child attends a failing school.

My son’s school is not a failure. The school where I teach is not a failure. It is the test-and-punish policy of NCLB that is failing.

Thankfully, a new initiative from parents, students, educators, and community members has formed to stand up to Arne Duncan’s bullying of our schools called OurSchoolsAreNotFailing.org. Be sure to sign the petition in support Washington state’s schools, share your story on the website about the great work that occurs in your school, and read the following statement from the OurSchoolsAreNotFailing.org website:

Our Schools Are Not Failing: NCLB is Failing Us

This year, most school districts across Washington state were forced by Secretary Arne Duncan’s selective enforcement of the No Child Left Behind Act to send letters to all parents that labeled our schools as failures.  We are parents, teachers, students and community members who reject this label that has been placed on our schools.

We know that our schools are not failures.  In fact, our schools’ accomplishments have been remarkable, especially given the deeply flawed policy imposed on them by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  While there are certainly changes needed for our schools—many due to the legacy of racism, class inequality, and lack of equitable funding for our schools—we believe that those changes should be directed by communities that make up local school districts, not from top-down mandates. This website will share stories and testimonials about the great things that are happening in our schools that should be supported and connect our communities so that we can organize opposition to Arne Duncan’s policies and No Child Left Behind.

According to NCLB, our schools should have had 100% of students test at proficient levels in reading and math by 2014.  No county, no state, and no school district has ever achieved 100% proficiency on standardized tests and, in fact, the way the tests are designed make it statistically impossible to achieve that goal. Washington, like many other states, originally had a waiver in place that would have exempted it from this absurd NCLB mandate.  However, when the state legislature refused to pass bills tying teacher evaluations to test scores (following overwhelming evidence that this would not improve teaching or learning), Arne Duncan chose to punish Washington state by revoking the waiver.  With the waiver gone, nearly all of Washington’s schools have been labeled failures, we may lose control of millions of dollars in federal money, and some schools will be at risk of state takeovers and mass layoffs of teachers.

This kind of political game-playing has no place in our schools.  Our schools and teachers should not be labeled as failures simply because we have rejected extremely flawed education policies.  In August 2014, 28 school superintendents from around the state authored a letter criticizing No Child Left Behind and declaring that their schools’ successes are not reflected in these ratings. We agree.  It’s time for the voices of parents, teachers and students to be heard and respected.

If you have a story to share about why your school is not a failure, tell us here.

Also, sign our petition to reinstate the NCLB waiver for Washington state.

“This is a test”: Educating to End the School-to-Grave-Pipeline in Ferguson and Beyond

“We were at graduation, me and him, and we were talking. He said he wasn’t going to end up like some people on the streets. He was going to get an education.”

Hershel Johnson, a friend Michael Brown’s since middle school.

MikeBrown_CapGown

Graduation portrait of Michael Brown from Normandy High School in Ferguson County, Missouri.

In the wake of the police murder of the unarmed 18-year-old African American high school graduate Michael Brown, and the ensuing uprising of the people of Ferguson, the Ferguson-Florissant School District announced classes would not resume for the school year on Aug. 14 as planned, and as of today, school is still not in session.

The unrest between police and protesters prompted Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to declare a state of emergency in Ferguson and then impose a curfew. Comedian John Oliver described Gov. Nixon’s curfew announcement as “patronizing,” and charged him with speaking in the tone of a “pissed-off vice principal” attempting to further restrict the freedom of the people of Ferguson. Oliver’s school analogy may have been prompted by Nixon’s statement that,

“…to protect the people and property of Ferguson today, I signed an order declaring a state of emergency and ordering implementation of a curfew in the impacted area of Ferguson… But if we’re going to achieve justice, we must first have and maintain peace. This is a test.”

For all of his authoritarian scolding, Gov. Nixon is correct about one thing: This is a test. But it isn’t one that will be scored accurately by a police force or a political class that sees itself as above the law.

Ferguson, like cities around the nation, has plenty of problems of race, class, and education to choose from. The schools in Ferguson—like to many districts across the nation—are still separate and unequal. 77.1 percent of the students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District are black, and some 68 percent of white students who live in the district attend schools outside of the district. Black students make up a disproportionate 87.1 percent of students without disabilities who receive an out-of-school suspensions, according to 2011-12 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection. And the black youth continue to be targets when they leave the schoolhouse and enter the streets.  Last year, black residents accounted for 86 percent of the vehicle stops made by Ferguson police and nearly 93 percent of the arrests made from those stops, according to the state attorney general. FBI statistics show that 85 percent of the people arrested by Ferguson police are black, and that 92% of people arrested specifically for disorderly conduct are black.

The city of Ferguson is 67.4 percent black and 28.7 percent white, yet five of the six city councilmembers are white and six of seven school board members are white.   The first African American Superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant School District, Dr. McCoy, was forced out of his position in March by the then all white school board. Normandy High School, the alma mater of Mike Brown, has a poverty rate of 92 percent. As Daily Kos related,

“The grinding poverty in Mike’s world only allowed Normandy High School to acquire two graduation gowns to be shared by the entire class. The students passed a gown from one to the other. Each put the gown on, in turn, and sat before the camera to have their graduation photographs taken. Until it was Mike’s turn.”

“Career and college ready” are the new buzzwords in the education reform world and every teacher certainly hopes their students achieve these personal successes. Yet to limit education to only these puny goals is to extinguish the true power of education. Education must also be in service of transforming our very troubled society.

Mike Brown was to have started attending Vatterott College on August 11, two days after he was killed, exposing the fact that the work of educators to help students achieve a diploma means little if our society succumbs to lawless police who gun down our unarmed children in the street. Many black youth have had their caps and gowns snatched from them and replaced with orange jumpsuits, as students are funneled into what is commonly called the “school-to-prison-pipeline”—a series of interlocking policies such as zero tolerance discipline and high suspension rates, overbearing police presence in schools, and high-stakes exit exams required for graduation. But increasingly it appears police are intent on constructing what I guess we now must term the “school-to-grave-pipeline”— a series of interlocking policies such as giving police weapons designed for war zones, the disproportionate policing of areas frequented by black youth, and incentivizing police to shoot black people by not arresting them and giving them paid leave when they do. The school-to-grave-pipeline is not only a problem in Ferguson.  Nationally, a study revealed that a black person is killed by police somewhere in the United States every 36 hours. When there are witnesses, or when onlookers are able to capture these murders on a cellphone camera, we get to hear about their case; people such as Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and many others. Yet too often, black people are shot down by police and discarded with little attention.

If education is not dedicated to empowering our youth to solve the problems they face in their communities, in our nation, and in our world, then it isn’t really an education at all—it is an indoctrination designed to reproduce oppression. As Richard Shaull explains in the forward to Paulo Freire’s masterwork, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

The way you know that those who control the education system—the many corporate style education reformers who push high-stakes testing and standardized curriculum—are not actually interested in nurturing black youth, closing the achievement gap, or supporting education that undermines oppression, is that you won’t hear any of them publicly defending Michael Brown or calling for the arrest of his murderer, Darren Wilson. (Or maybe Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and Michelle Rhee carpooled and got lost on their way to the rally in Ferguson?). On the issues that most deeply affect the lives of African Americans—mass incarceration, police terror, unemployment, housing discrimination—these education reformers and officials have nothing to say, content to prattle on with the exhortations about “accountability,” “career ready,” “21st century education,” and other hollow pronouncements devoid of the social supports that would make them a reality.

Thankfully, educators in Ferguson and around the nation are rising to the challenge of redefining the purpose of education with the intent of building a more just society in wake of the killing of Michael Brown. On August 17, Dr. Marcia Chatelain tweeted a call for resources for parents and educators to talk to young people heading back to school with the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus.  People from around the nation began collecting and retweeting articles, books, videos, and photos to aid educators in lesson ideas that engage students in a critical dialogue about the meaning of Michael Brown’s death and the mass uprising it has inspired.

Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D (@JackieGerstein) tweeting with #FergusonSyllabus, wrote:

 

And Caryn Riswold (‏@feminismxianity) tweeted:

Some of the best lessons ideas shared on #FergusonSyllabus include a link to the video, “Race the House We Live in”, about redlining and housing discrimination, a Rethinking Schools lesson on teaching about The Murder of Sean Bell (a young African American killed by New York City Police), Christopher Emdin’s essay, “5 Ways to Teach About Michael Brown and Ferguson in the New School Year,” and Teaching for Change’s, “Teaching About Ferguson.” Any teacher of American history or civics would do well to discuss Amy Goodman’s essay, “The ghost of Dred Scott haunts the streets of Ferguson,” outlining the case of the slave (buried just down the street from where Mike Brown was killed) who took his case for freedom to the Supreme Court, which subsequently ruled that African Americans had, “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

National Public Radio ran a story on August 19th, “Ferguson Teachers Use Day off As Opportunity for Civics Lesson” where they reported, “So this morning, instead of being in the classroom, 150 area teachers took part in some unusual professional development: picking up broken glass, water bottles and tear gas canisters from the street. “It says ‘Defense Technology’ on it,” says social studies teacher Arthur Vambaketes, showing off a busted canister from his trash bag.”

When the schools reopen in Ferguson, teachers would do well to close up the jingoistic textbooks, discard the bubble tests, and ask students what they think about the fact that our nation spends more on “defense technology,” militarized policing and mass incarceration than on education. It might not be on the new Common Core exams, but the killing of Michael Brown is a test for our nation’s schools nonetheless.

As I prepare to head back to the classroom, I pledge to Michael Brown and his family that I will do my best to foster a classroom that allows for the emotional intensity and critical dialogue vital to achieving a world that puts institutional racism in its final resting place and gives our black children a bright future.

—-

Jesse Hagopian is the editor and contributing author to the forthcoming book (available for per-ordering), More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing. Jesse teaches history and is the co-advisor for the Black Student Union at Garfield High School, the site of the historic boycott of the MAP standardized test.  Jesse an associate editor for Rethinking Schools magazine, a founding member of Social Equality Educators (SEE), and recipient of the 2013 “Secondary School Teacher of Year” award from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences. Follow Jesse on his blog at www.iamaneducator.com or on Twitter: @jessedhagopian

Frankenstein Fears His Monster: The Gates Foundation Wants You To Boycott High-Stakes Tests

…the Gates Foundation agrees with those who’ve decided that assessment results should not be taken into account in high-stakes decisions on teacher evaluation or student promotion for the next two years, during this transition.”

  — Vicki Phillips, director of the U.S. education program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

 

How do you know the United States is currently experiencing the largest revolt against high-stakes standardized testing in history?

Because even the alchemists responsible for concocting the horrific education policies designed to turn teaching and learning into a test score have been shaken hard enough to awaken from the nightmare scenario of fast-tracking high-stakes Common Core testing across the nation. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation issued a stunning announcement on Tuesday, saying that it supports a two-year moratorium on attaching high-stakes to teacher evaluations or student promotion on tests associated with the new Common Core State Standards.

Labor journalist Lee Sustar put it perfectly when he said of the Gates Foundation’s statement, “Dr. Frankenstein thought things got out of hand, too.”

The mad-pseudoscientists at the Gates Foundation have been the primary perpetrators of bizarre high-stakes test experiments in teacher evaluations, even as a growing body of research—including a report from the American Statistical Association—has debunked the validity of “value added method” testing models. The Gates Foundation has used its immense wealth to circumvent the democratic process to create the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with very little input from educators. As Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp wrote of the Common Core development process,

Because federal law prohibits the federal government from creating national standards and tests, the Common Core project was ostensibly designed as a state effort led by the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, a private consulting firm. The Gates Foundation provided more than $160 million in funding, without which Common Core would not exist… According to teacher educator Nancy Carlsson-Paige: “In all, there were 135 people on the review panels for the Common Core. Not a single one of them was a K–3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.” Parents were entirely missing. K–12 educators were mostly brought in after the fact to tweak and endorse the standards—and lend legitimacy to the results.

And thus the Gates Foundation’s unnatural methods brought to life the Common Core State Standards. As parents, students, and teachers around the nation have grown tired of being the targets of hazardous corporate experimentation and excluded from major policy decisions about education, they have built the largest revolt against the use of high-stakes standardized testing in our nations’ history. Teachers at my own Garfield High School in Seattle refused to administer the district mandated MAP test last year. This year, teachers at Saucedo Elementary were threatened with the revoking of their teaching certificates for refusing to administer a state exam, but have continued in their civil disobedience. Some 33,000 parents in New York State alone have opted their children out of tests in the current school year. Students from Portland to Rhode Island have led rallies and walkouts against the tests.

The Providence Student Union recently gathered at the Rhode Island Statehouse, dressed as rodents, to protest a state-wide standardized test recently incorporated into high school graduation requirements. Jose Serrano, a sophomore at The Met School, addressed the crowd saying, “The reason we are dressed like guinea pigs and lab rats is simple — that is how we are being treated. (The Rhode Island Department of Education) had a hypothesis — that high-stakes testing alone, without the extra resources our schools need, would solve our educational problems and radically improve our proficiency. But this was nothing more than an experiment.”

So when the Gates Foundation writes that they, “agree with those who’ve decided that assessment results should not be taken into account in high-stakes decisions on teacher evaluation or student promotion for the next two years,” I take that to mean they have sided with our movement and activists like Jia Lee of the Earth School who is refusing to administer a CCSS test. I can only assume the Gates Foundation is getting ready to sign the petition and cut a check to support the group, “Teachers of Conscience,” responsible organizing this Common Core testing boycott.

The Gates Foundation may be attempting to corral a runaway anti-high-stakes testing movement by appearing to listen to the overwhelming numbers of people who are demanding an end to the use of test and punish mysticism in education. But in calling for a two-year dousing of cold water on the high-stakes attached to CCSS tests, the Gates foundation has only poured gasoline on a fire threatening to consume the multi-billion dollar Pearson corporation’s testing products around the nation. Imagine the confidence of the next group of teachers who refuse to administer high-stakes Common Core tests when they justifiably claim the creator of the Common Core doesn’t want them to administer it.

This latest backtrack by the Gates Foundation shows they are vulnerable to pressure. But the question remains, will the Gates Foundation pursue its call for constraining the testing creature it created with the same zeal as it showed in creating the Common Core? Will the Foundation use its undue influence and wealth to pressure states to drop the use of high stakes testing attached to Common Core tests?  On June 26th, public education advocates from around the country will arrive in Seattle to protest at the global headquarters of the Gates Foundation. You should join them and find out if the Gates Foundation is brave enough to answer these questions.

While the Gates Foundation may be bending to the will of a popular revolt, it will take nothing short of mass civil rights movement to defeat its grotesque monster of high-stakes testing that is menacing our schools.

The Garfield High School Assessment Committee VS the Testocracy: We know how to run the schools better than billionaires

On Thursday of last week I attended a meeting of the Garfield High School Assessment Committee.

A report on one of many after school meetings may seem mundane.  A committee of educators tasked with discussing assessment might appear innocuous.  Yet that gathering of fifteen or so educators sharing their experience, expertise, and asking questions about alternatives to standardized testing was nothing short of sedition against a Testocracy that has attempted to silence teachers as it implements corporate education reform.

This team of dedicated educators forming the Garfield High School Assessment Committee was born out of the MAP test boycott last school year, which resulted in the Seattle School District backing away from its threat of suspending the boycotting teachers and ultimately—a year ago this month—forced the district to make the test optional at the high school level.  From the very beginning of the MAP boycott, teachers at Garfield High School asserted that our strike against the test had nothing to do with shirking accountability to our students’ learning.  We said that assessments are essential to teachers to help us understand where the student is in their zone of proximal development in order to scaffold their learning to advance their understanding of a given concept. And many of us simultaneously asserted that standardized testing, and the MAP test in particular, is a clumsy form of assessment that often hides more than it reveals about student knowledge–particularly the thought process and how a student arrived at particular answer.  Worse, these tests primarily assess students’ ability to eliminate wrong answer choices and are too puny an instrument to measure collaboration, passion, imagination and a myriad of other qualities that are vital to the development of the whole child.

The Assessment Committee began the meeting by asking teachers why they were at the meeting and what types of assessments they were interested in learning about.  As the list grew on the white board, so too did my confidence that collaboration of educators could enhance the education of our students–and that our collective action to assert the power of authentic assessment could serve as a beacon to educators around the country looking to reclaim classrooms from a Testocracy intent on grafting a business model onto education that reduces the intellectual process of teaching and learning a single score. Some of these teachers’ ideas included:

  • Project-based learning coupled with performance-based assessment
  • Interdisciplinary studies along with portfolios
  • Student generated rubrics to assess their own work
  • Students taking group assessments
  • Teachers working collectively to assess student work

As my colleague Rachel Eells told the Times, “The MAP protest was really just the start of a deeper dialogue about how to we assess students in a meaningful way and how we use assessments to meaningfully inform instruction.” Garfield’s Assessment Committee has been meeting regularly all year and recently reported back to the staff at Garfield High School about a partnership our school has formed with a network of schools called the New York Performance Standards Consortium that has a waiver from the New York Regents exams and instead utilizes a sophisticated method of Performance Based Assessment. The Seattle Times recently ran an article about Garfield High School’s partnership with the New York Performance Standards Consortium,”New way to test? Garfield teachers explore New York model.” 

I first became aware of the Consortium schools while attending a conference of the Advancement Project in Washington, D.C. last year.  I had the pleasure of attending a panel with two teachers and a student who explained the power of their approach to performance based assessments that allowed students to do research over time, develop a thesis, and present their findings to a panel comprised of teachers, administrators, parents and community members.  The student spoke movingly to how this approach to evaluation helped rescue the importance of school for him, and the teachers revealed that the Consortium Schools have higher graduation rates as compared with other demographically similar public schools in New York.  After the presentation, I was delighted to meet the student and teachers, and they expressed their support for the MAP test boycott. Avram Barlowe, one of the founding teachers of the Consortium Schools asked me if Garfield teachers would be interested in attending workshops at the New York Performance Standards Consortium.

Avram then put me in touch with Phyllis Tashlik, one of the directors of the program, and over the course of the year our principal and a few of our teachers have made multiple trips to the Consortium Schools and have brought back with them invaluable insights into the learning process and assessment methods. This is what real education reform looks like: educators collaborating to share best practices to retake their profession from billionaires and their flunkies who know little about the craft of teaching.

RESPECT is on the Rise: I lost my bid for SEA union president by 45 votes, but the Social Equality Educators have never been stronger!

Thanks to everyone for your support for the Social Equality Educator’s (SEE) RESPECT campaign in the recent Seattle Education Association (SEA) union election!  Our campaign generated more excitement than ever before–both inside the union and among social justice and education thought leaders who supported my run for president of the union. In the end, I came up just 45 votes short of becoming the next president of the SEA, in the biggest voter turnout in our union’s history. Given that no one I have spoken to can remember an incumbent being unseated in SEA history, and that I received more votes than were cast in the entire last election, it is clear that there is a new upsurge occurring in our union. I gave this interview to KUOW, Seattle’s local NPR affiliate the day after the election summing up the results and laying out SEE’s vision for schools.

While it’s tough to lose by such a close margin, I am thrilled by the many accomplishments of this campaign.

SEE RESPECT candidates swept the high school Executive Board positions in the SEA, split the middle school seats, and won 6 seats overall! Dan Troccoli, the SEE candidate for treasurer, is in a special runoff election, the outcome of which we find out on June 4th. (Please support our efforts by donating to Dan’s campaign!).

Yet our campaign for RESPECT accomplished much more than just getting candidates elected.

SEE set out with a goal of getting over 50% of the members to participate in the election–and we surpassed our goal, with over 53% of members voting! We said from the beginning that the most important element of a strong union is an active membership, regardless of who is running the union.  The SEA is becoming more active than ever and SEE is proud to have helped sparked discussions and debates that have greatly aided in members’ taking a greater interest in how to best organize our union.  While there certainly have been some initiatives that the current SEA leadership have undertaken that have helped engage members (such as one-on-on listening sessions with members), there is no doubt that SEE is playing a vital role in activating the rank-and-file of the union around the key eduction issues of the day such as standardized testing, racial justice and the opportunity gap, and teacher evaluations.

In building after building across Seattle, candidates from the SEE’s RESPECT slate explained our vision to hundreds of SEA members: The contract educators deserve, the schools our children deserve, and the city our families deserve.

We said that the contract we deserve would set caseload caps for our counselors and other Education Support Associates (ESAs)—something the district has repeatedly promised would happen at some future date and something our union has continually backed down on. We said that the contract we deserve would have fair and sustainable teacher evaluations that were not dependent on unreliable, curriculum-narrowing standardized tests. Unfortunately, in contract negotiations SEA allowed Seattle to became the only city in the entire state to allow two measures of student growth in educators’ evaluations, including the use of state standardized tests scores.

The RESPECT campaign argued that the schools our children deserve would replace zero tolerance disciplinary procedures, which have resulted in African American students being suspended at five times the rate of their white peers, with restorative justice models designed to help students solve their problems collectively. We asserted that the schools students deserve would provide a holistic education that supports educators in promoting a multicultural education that is explicitly anti-racist, challenges gender bias, and undermines homophobia.  And we said that our union has partner with parents to make a public campaign during contract negotiations around lowering class size to achieve the individual attention our students deserve.

We were also able to make an argument during this election for the role our schools play in the overall health of our city, and lay out a strategy for our union to play a more proactive role in the issues—such as a $15 minimum wage, affordable transportation, and affordable housing—that impact the families we serve.

Most importantly, in this election the Social Equality Educators helped to popularize a program which asserted that our union is strongest when we partner with parents and community organizations in a common struggle to defend public education from corporate education reformers. This idea was put into practice during last year’s boycott of the MAP test, when we built a broad-based coalition that included the Garfield PTSA, the Seattle/King County NAACP, Parents Across America, the Garfield Student Body Government, hundreds of educators, and many others in the community. The overwhelmingly positive response we received from teachers around the district to this strategy of coalition building shows the great potential for joining public education stakeholders in a common struggle.

The Social Equality Educators have only just begun in our quest for social movement unionism to achieve social justice inside and outside the classroom.

Front Page Seattle Times Article on SEA election: “Politics plays role in teachers union vote for president”

The Seattle Times ran an important front page article today on the current election in the Seattle Education Association (SEA), “Politics plays role in teachers union vote for president”. I am running for President of SEA on the RESPECT ticket, a slate of social justice educators.  YouDeserveRespect

The main criticism of our campaign cited in the article is that we have too many endorsements from outside the union–which only highlights how much support we have in the community and among social justice advocates. It should also be noted that we have scores of endorsements from leading educators in schools across Seattle. The most important part of the article is the end where the difference between our two campaigns is driven home when it is revealed that the incumbent leadership is endorsed by the pro-charter school/pro-standardized testing, Gates Foundation-backed reformer organization, Teachers United.  Of course, Teachers United has a right to express their ideas in a fair and open debate.  However, if the vast majority of the union membership believes that corporate reform policies of privatizing education and reducing teaching and learning to a test scores is harmful to public education–as we have expressed in numerous votes in the SEA–then we need a union that more rigorously opposes these harmful policies.

I would have liked to see more information in the article about our entire slate of candidates on the RESPECT ticket–including the great Marian Wagner, running for Vice President, and Dan Troccoli, running for Treasurer.  I would have also liked to have seen a more substantive discussion of the political points that are being debated in this election. Most notably absent from the article was our criticism of the contract that SEA negotiated with the District that made far too many concessions for educators–such as not getting caseload caps for our counselors and allowing Seattle to become the only city in Washington state to allow two measures of “student growth” (including state test scores) in teacher evaluations.  Finally, I would have liked to have seen some of the points of the SEE RESPECT  platform highlighted, such as our dedication to combating institutional racism by advocating for a restorative justice approach to discipline replacing zero tolerance polices that have resulted in dramatically disproportion discipline used to punishing African American students.

Still, the article raises the important issues of school closures and the over use of standardized testing–and pointed out that these are movements I have been a part of for many years.  Because these are issues that educators in Seattle care deeply about, this article should help to increase voter turnout in the election–a prerequisite to a an engaged and activated membership, one of the primary objectives of ours in the campaign.

Those of us on the SEE RESPECT ticket in the election know that our union needs to become more powerful in its defense  of public education.

You can support our efforts to revive social justice unionism to defend public education by:

1) Sharing our campaign with every educator you know–on Facebook, Twitter, email, and beyond.

3) Remind a Seattle educator to vote before Wednesday, May 7th.

Thanks to everyone for all your support! 

 

 

The New Conscientious Test Objectors at International High School in NYC!

A couple of days ago a New York area code popped up on my cell phone. I didn’t recognize the number—but when a teacher on the other end of line said that she was organizing a testing boycott at her high school, I certainly recognized the situation.

Emily Giles, a teacher at International High School at Prospect Heights, told me about a standardized test that was disrespecting the schools’ English Language Learner (ELL) students’ cultural and linguistic diversity. She told me about ELL students who were brought to tears during the fall pre-test administration of the exam because of the level of English used was far above the level of beginner ELLs—and thus provided very little useful feedback for the teachers. Emily told me about a test that some 50% of the parents were already set to opt out of. And she told me of the dedicated educators who were no longer willing to see their students humiliated or their profession degraded by the abuses of the NYC ELA Performance Assessment Test.

Similar conditions arose in Seattle last year when my colleagues at Garfield High School refused to administer the MAP test—and succeed in making the test optional for high schools. When I spoke to Emily, it was clear that she and her coworkers had already set in motion all the key components to a successful direct action campaign against the tests. We discussed how there are no guarantees about the outcome when you engage in civil disobedience, but that because her colleagues had built such a strong base of support among teachers and parents, if the staff truly felt that they could not administer this test in good conscience, I thought it was worth taking this stand for her students.

I checked in with her last night as she was preparing for the press conference today to see how she was holding up. I remember the fear vividly—the cold sweats and sleepless nights—I had when we prepared to announce that Garfield would refuse to administer the MAP test, and I figured she could use some support. What she told me let me know that these teachers are ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple. She said,

I’m feeling a little nervous, very excited, and completely inspired by the people I work with.  I’m feeling really happy and honored to work with people who are so passionate about what they do, and care so deeply what happens in our classrooms and the lives of the young people we work with.

From Seattle, to Chicago, to New York City, teachers are defending their students and reclaiming their humanity by refusing to be reduced to a test score.

Today is May Day—international workers’ day. There is no better way to celebrate the struggles of workers today than by supporting these courageous educators at the first high school in New York City to boycott a standardized test by signing on to the petition in their defense.

Today is also my late Grandfather’s birthday. Happy Birthday Grandpa Chuck! Chuck was a conscientious objector during WWII. I said to him once near the end of his life, “Weren’t you afraid of how your peers and society would look at you for not going to fight in the war? That must have been a hard decision.” He paused before he spoke and I have never seen my gentle, soft-spoken grandfather look so fierce. To be honest, his look gave me a scare. Then he replied, “No it wasn’t hard at all. What would have been hard would have been to kill someone.”

That same gentle fierceness of spirit burns within the conscientious test objectors at International High School at Prospect Heights.

Don’t give up. And when you reach the end of your life, you will look back in certainty at having made the only choice you could have: Following your convictions in pursuit of justice.

Video: What Does RESPECT Mean?–Vote today for a new union leadership to defend public education

Voting has begun!

I am running for president of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) with a dozen other educators on the RESPECT ticket.  We want to transform our union to become a powerful force to defend public education from corporate education reformers. Many of us were leaders in the MAP test boycott and we all believe that a union that builds partnerships with parents and community organizations can achieve the contract educators deserve, the schools our children deserve, and the city our families deserve. If you believe in our vision, please donate to support our campaign here. In this video we explain our vision for what RESPECT means and how to achieve it:

YouDeserveRespect

 

Please share this video widely and ask any educator you know in Seattle to consider voting for our slate of candidates.  Seattle educators can cast–or change–their vote unit voting closes on Wednesday, May 7th. Information on the candidates and instructions for SEA members on how to vote are here.

It is time to Elect RESPECT!

Arne Duncan has labeled my school—and every school in Washington State—a failure. Cue the revolt.

The ultimate absurdity of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has been visited upon my home state of Washington.

One of the many outlandish propositions of  NCLB was that 100 percent of students at all schools in the United States would be fully proficient in reading and math, as registered by student test scores, by 2014—all without adding the resources needed to support our children.   Because no state has been able to achieve 100 percent proficiency, nearly all of the states have already received a federal waiver from NCLB—on the condition that they implement policies that reduce teaching and learning to a test score.

Now, because our State Legislators did not move to mandate that standardized test scores be attached to teacher evaluations, Washington has become the first state in the country to lose its waiver from the many requirements of the No Child Left Behind act. The U.S. Department of Education posted a letter about the status of Washington’s waiver on Thursday April 24th. The loss of this waiver means that every parent in the state should expect a letter informing them that their child attends a failing school. It also means that  school districts will lose control of how they spend a portion of the federal funding they receive—some $40 million statewide. As well, any number of schools could be forced into state takeover and made to replace most of the staff.

And so the absolute farce of federal education reform policy marches on, again without input from educators or parents, in an effort to destabilize the public schools, label them as failing, and then open up space for privatized charter schools.

This time they have gone too far.

My school is not a failure. Garfield High School, where I teach, is home to one of the best jazz bands in the country. I dare you not to shake your booty when you hear the Garfield drumline, the premiere percussionists of the Northwest. If Arne Duncan had been there to see Garfield’s drama department’s production of West Side Story this year, he would have been too busy humming “Maria” to withdraw the waiver.  And I really wish Duncan could have been in my classroom to see my students research and reenact the Montgomery Bus Boycott–during the time of the schools’ MAP test boycott last year–to see how learning in the service of solving societal problems is coming alive at Garfield.

More than this, none of our schools are failures. The failure is on the part of politicians and their corporate sponsors who have slashed education budgets across the country, and then overused test scores to blame educators for the nation’s problems.

Labeling us all as failures will only create solidarity among all the teachers, parents, and students across the state in a struggle to stop Arne Duncan’s mad testing machine. We at Garfield High School learned the power solidarity in our victorious MAP test boycott last year. If you think the struggle to “scrap the MAP” was impressive, imagine the size and scope of a struggle that unites every school in the state to honor our hardworking educators and students, rather than testing and punishing.

I am running for the president of the Seattle Education Association in part to help organize our educators in this struggle (you can donate and support my campaign here). Now is the time to build the largest grassroots civil rights movement to defend our schools that our state has ever seen. Who will join me?

 

 

Help Elect RESPECT: Donate to support social justice union slate & Jesse Hagopian’s bid for president of the Seattle Education Association

We need your help raising $1,000 to help us reclaim public education

I am writing to ask for your support in my bid to be the president of the Seattle Education Association (SEA)–the union representing teachers, instructional assistants, councilors, clerical workers, and support staff who work in the Seattle Public Schools.

SEE RESPECT candidates and supporters at a campaign event.

No one I have talked to can remember a time when a union president incumbent was unseated in Seattle. We are attempting to make history in this election and we have already created a healthy and rigorus debate about the way forward for public education.

Time is running out to support this effort.  On-line voting in the SEA union election begins Sunday, 4/27/14 at 12:01am and ends on Wednesday, 5/07/14, at 11:59pm. Please consider supporting our slate with your financial contribution and help us reclaim public education.  Below is an appeal from the RESPECT campaign team with more details.

Please consider donating to our Indiegogo fundraising campaign to help make our vision of social justice unionism a reality. I can’t thank you enough for your support.

Best,

-Jesse Hagopian

Dear Friends,

Elections for leadership of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) are coming right up and ballots will be cast at the end of April. On behalf of Social Equality Educators (SEE) and the many brothers and sisters working with us on the RESPECT campaign toward the common goal of strengthening our union, we are campaigning to ask you to make a financial contribution to support the campaign . We have assembled a remarkable group of educators on the SEE “RESPECT” ticket –award-winners and National Board Certified Teachers, experienced educators and those newer to the profession – to run for union office. We have over a dozen candidates, including Jesse Hagopian for SEA president, Marian Wagner for SEA Vice President, and Dan Troccoli for SEA Treasurer.

Together, we are confident we can achieve the contract educators deserve, the schools our students deserve, and the city our families deserve. Our record of supporting the MAP test boycott showed we could unite students, parents, and educators in a common struggle to defend–and transform–public education.

We have already been endorsed by Dr. John Carlos, 1968 Olympic medalist, medal stand protester, Gerald Hankerson, President of the King County/Seattle NAACP, Nick Licata, Seattle City Council MemberDr. Wayne Au, Editor at Rethinking Schools and Professor at University of Washington Bothell, and Robert Wood, Professor President of the UW American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Bob George, National Director, Save Our Schools, Dave Zirin,sports editor The Nation Magazine, Dora Taylor, President of Parents Across America, Tim Harris, Founder and Director of Real Change newspaper, and many others!

http://socialequalityeducators.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Screen-shot-2014-02-17-at-10.37.48-AM.png

Vice Presidential RESPECT candidate Marian Wagner at the campaign kickoff event.

The Respect slate of candidates stands for:

  • A union that will fight for a strong contract. When we ask for less than what is required to do our jobs well, we cannot serve our students effectively, or be true to the passion that brings us into the classroom.
  • A union that will demand full funding of education. This will only happen if we insist lawmakers adhere to the law.
  • A union that will stand for fair and sustainable teacher evaluation. Evaluation should empower us to continually improve our professional practice and care for our students—it should not simply serve as a “gotcha” tool for administrators.
  • A union that protects our right to teach culturally relevant curriculum and works to replace disproportionate disciplinary procedures with restorative justice. Seattle’s students deserve a holistic education that fosters critical thinking and civic engagement.
  • We need a union that brings families and community members into the schools as partners and collaborators.
  • A union that empowers the union membership to be an active voice.
  • A union that keeps us updated with accurate information and invites us to take an active role in a truly member-driven association.
  • A union that will join the growing national movement to fight for fair and meaningful student assessments, including opportunities to pilot performance-based alternatives to high-stakes testing.

To endorse the SEE Respect union campaign visit http://socialequalityeducators.org/endorse-the-campaign/ .

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