Author Archive: I AM AN EDUCATOR

The Tulsa Test-defyers: We won’t give tests that “rob children of their educational liberties.”

 “It’s about watching kids cry. And throw chairs. And pee their pants. And scratch their face until it turns red or they bleed. That’s what it’s about. That’s all that it’s about.”

Nikki Jones, on the impact of high-stakes tests on children and why she won’t administer them.

Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones

Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones teach first grade at Skelly Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma—and they are refusing to trade in their job titles for “test prep tutor.” Declaring that they will refuse to administer a battery of tests (including the infamous MAP test, the same test I helped to organize a boycott against in Seattle), these educators have become the most recent test-defyers in a growing movement of conscientious objectors to standardized tests.

The “testocracy” is determined to reduce the intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning to a single score that they can use to deny students promotion, destabilize the teaching profession, label schools as failing, and turn them into privatized charter schools. Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones were quickly threatened with disciplinary measures by their Superintendent.  If you have a message of solidarity for them, please send it to me and I will pass it on to them.

The brave actions of Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones are sure to inspire other educators around the nation who believe that education has to be about more than eliminating wrong answer choices.  The civil rights movement to reclaim and redefine education has only just begun.

Below is the letter they sent home to families explaining why they refuse to administer these exams.

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To the Families of the Children in our Classrooms,

First of all, we want to thank you for the opportunity to work with your children. We understand that it is difficult to drop your most precious belongings off in the hands of someone else. We understand that you are trusting us to use the best practices in teaching in order to ensure the most success for your child. Our number one goal in teaching is to keep the best interest of your child at the heart of all we do. We hope our passion, education, and dedication is evident daily.

Quickly, we want to take a moment and talk about ourselves. While we don’t want our bios to be the focus, we do want our parents and the community to have an understanding of our behind- the-scenes work and passion that we put into our jobs. We want you to know about our accomplishments, research, and experiences in order for you to have an understanding of our background and professionalism.

My name is Karen Hendren and I am currently a 1st grade teacher at Skelly Elementary. I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in Elementary Education. I have teaching experience at Educare, Sand Springs Early Childhood Center, and overseas at Feltwell Elementary in England on the military base. I was assigned the Lead teacher position for First Grade. The District has entrusted me to teach Professional Development over both Reading and Math. My evaluations have always shown me to be an effective teacher.

My name is Nikki Jones and I am also a first grade teacher at Skelly Elementary. In addition to first grade, I have taught Pre-K and K for the district. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Early Childhood Education. Recently, I was recognized on the cover of NAEYC’s magazine, The Young Child, as the feature teacher. Last spring, I was utilized by TPS as a model for Early Childhood in an NPR story airing over Tulsa success in implementing Early Childhood Programs. Most recently, I received the national award for Outstanding Classroom Practitioner by the organization, NAECTE, and Cengage Publishing. I serve as the State Rep for UOO as an advocate for children and their families in diminishing the High Stakes Testing monster. All of my evaluations have shown me to be an effective teacher. Both Karen and I continually pursue knowledge and understanding and have been trusted by the district to lead and represent multiple aspects of Early Childhood Education throughout our years of service.

Unfortunately, in the recent years, the mandates have gradually squelched the creativity and learning from our classrooms. The problem is that we are having to spend WAY too much time on formal assessments. All of the testing is required and some of it is classified as High Stakes Testing (HST). A high-stakes test is any test used to make important decisions about students, educators, schools, or districts, most commonly for the purpose of accountability—i.e., the attempt by federal, state, or local government agencies and school administrators to ensure that students are enrolled in effective schools and being taught by effective teachers. In general, “high stakes” means that test scores are used to determine punishments (such as sanctions, penalties, funding reductions, negative publicity), accolades (awards, public celebration, positive publicity), advancement (grade promotion or graduation for students), or compensation (salary increases or bonuses for administrators and teachers). (Glossary of Education Reform, 2014)

This year, in first grade, your child is being asked to participate in the following assessments:

Literacy First Assessment: This takes anywhere from 40 minutes to over an hour per student to administer. This is a one-on-one assessment that is to be conducted quarterly or more for progress monitoring.

“Where to Start Word List”: This assessment correlating to the F&P screening. The purpose of this screening is to level each child and ensure they are given reading instruction on their level. After going through the word lists, then the child is screened using a book on the assigned level. This assessment is done quarterly or as needed to progress monitor. It takes 20-30 minutes per child is also a one-on-one assessment.

Eureka Math: Children are to be given a whole group, 60 minute math lesson that has an “exit ticket” assessment at the end of each lesson. Yes, they want first graders testing daily over the lessons. This exit ticket is not long, but it still takes time. It equilibrates to daily testing for 6 and 7 year old children. This math curriculum also had a mid-module assessment and end of unit assessment.

iRead: iRead is a software program that the district requires children to be on for 20 minutes a day. It comes with an abundance of software issues and frustrations. The district has been working diligently on trying to get this programming to run successfully, but so far, to no avail. Part of this computer based program is a literacy screener. This screening takes place at the beginning of the year, and last 30-45 minutes per child.

MAP: Map is a computer based test that was designed as a tool for progress monitoring students in both math and literacy. This is the High Stakes Test that the district also utilizes for our teacher evaluations. It is completely developmentally inappropriate and does not provide valid data in the early childhood domain.

All of these tests, plus assessments that we utilize to document their understanding of certain content, are going on in your child’s first grade classroom. I believe you are getting the point… assessments, assessments, assessments! In our classrooms the children spend, on average, 1,510 minutes (25 hours) completing assessments. 720 minutes of those assessments are one-on-one. That means that we are tied up assessing students for at least 17, 280 minutes a school year. Your children are losing 288 hours of time with their teacher because of mandated testing. When you break down our days and count for specials, lunch, and recess, we end up with about 4 hours of instruction time. So, 288 instructional hours, or 72 days… yes, 72 days of our school year we, as teachers, are tied up assessing students with the mandated assessments. Why are our schools failing? Why are children not learning how to read? We think the numbers above answer those questions.

We understand the need for assessments. We want to progress monitor our students in order to meet their differentiated teaching needs. We value data. However, we went to college for an understanding on how to do this. We both build in-depth, all-encompassing portfolios that are a TRUE picture of the growth of our students. These portfolios do not just show math and literacy, they also show growth in cognitive development, writing, understandings of every state standard, art, identity of self, science, social studies, social-emotional development, and more. We do these portfolios so that we can have an accurate measure of each child across every domain. We have authentic assessments, off-the-shelf scholarly assessments, summative assessments, and formative assessments; all of which are paired with some sort of work sample or media documentation. Believe us, we know where our students are.

We want to share with you 4 experiences of children in our classroom during the implementation of MAP testing. The names and descriptions of these children have been changed to uphold their rights to privacy. They will all be referred to in the masculine form, but not necessarily male. The reference is strictly utilized for the flow of speech.

Student 1: This is one of the sweetest students a teacher could ask for. This student is gentle, calm, and collected. This student is learning English, but does not yet have any academic English. The student sat in front of the computer screen and tried his very best. We watched his eyes well up with tears. We watched the student nervously pull at his hair. Eventually, the student scratched red marks down his face in distress over the test. He is the oldest of the siblings. He can cook, clean, and take care of a baby better than some adults. The student knows all of his alphabet and the letter sounds in English now. This student loves writing books and can dance like no other. He is now comfortable enough to get up in front of the class and perform a talent or recite a poem. This student scored in the 1% range.

Student 2: This student has special needs and should be allowed accommodations. He looked around the room and noticed everyone clicking away even though he was still on question 6. He raised his hand and said “Why am I counting apples and he has math with lots of numbers?” He then stood up and threw his chair. I have NEVER seen this child upset to a point of acting out in this manner. This student likes Minecraft because he loves to build and is a problem solver. This student can tell you descriptive details about all characters in a story. His comprehension is far above grade level. If I give him a project over something of interest, he produces the work and utilizes problem solving skills across all content areas. He can fold paper into anything. This student scored in the 1% range.

Student 3: This student struggles with confidence in himself and because of this, is a pleaser. This student is smart; but, the test is smarter. The test is designed to adjust with the learner to meet their zone of proximal development (ZPD). However, it increasingly gets harder and harder until eventually, the student cannot answer the questions. The test is designed to reach a failing point for each child. This particular student quickly noticed that each question he answered correctly generated a more challenging question. Once out of his ZPD, the student laid his/her head down in tears and clicked through the test randomly selecting an answer, then clicking the arrow to proceed. We are talking about a student that is funny and happy. He can tell us jokes all day long. He takes care of the classroom and is in tune with peoples feelings. This student knows when he is respected and when he is not. He loves having his own personal whiteboard. He writes on it almost all day long. In doing so, he recently took what we had taught him about numbers and addition and figured out multiplication all on his own. He constructed his own knowledge of numbers to go beyond the standards. He is wise beyond his years. I believe he scored in the 11% range.

Student 4: This is a child that could be considered gifted and talented. He is reading above grade level. He does not care about a test on the computer screen. He is six years old. Ask him about nocturnal animals. Ask him about the elements in the Earth. Ask him about outer space. Ask him about anything interesting to him. Do not grade him on one test. Do not track him on one test. He takes care of all the pets in our classroom. (Rat, birds, turtle, and fish) He researches their needs and meets them on a daily basis. He teaches other students about how to care for them. He can teach over us in the content of certain animals, no doubt. He scored in the teens percentile range.

Over 85% of our students failed the MAP test. We had to meet with most of you to discuss your child’s “at risk” path and the retention they will face in third grade if they do not begin to show higher test scores. Was that a constructive meeting? No. Here is why we feel that way. The data is not valid in an early childhood setting, especially with the demographics of our community school. The test is 55 questions long in both math and reading. Our state and district want your child to be able to sit through a 55 question test that is designed to be frustrating. They make no accommodations for language or IEP’s. How can they say the data is valid when they are not even tested in the language they speak? How can they say the data is valid when they ignore what the research says about early childhood developmental capabilities? Is the data provided from MAP ever going to surpass the data that we collect, as the professionals, in our classrooms? Should we allow a child to scratch their face, throw a chair, pee their pants, lay their heads down in defeat… all over taking a test that is designed to make them fail? Nobody feels successful after taking this test because of the nature of it. Should the results of that test be an evaluating measure for how effective we are as teachers?

Then, there are the student surveys we recently were told to administer. We switched classrooms with each other and spent 2 and 1/2 hours proctoring student surveys. That looks like reading every single question aloud to every single student and instructing them on to complete a bubble sheet. There are SEVERAL questions that are unreasonable and irrational. One of the student survey questions that really got to me was “are you sleepy at school”. Yes, some of our students have erratic home lives. It’s not your fault, as parents. We are all doing the best we can do. But, life happens and sometimes children come to school after a rough night and are sleepy. The children have no time for daily naps or opportunities to rest and their bodies are growing and tired. So, what are the supposed implications of this question about being tired? Then, the surveys have an entire back page that appears to be for data collection purposes only and violates the privacy of your family.

Parents, you deserve a say in whether or not your children take the surveys. Well, its actually your right as a parent under HB 1384 and COPPA. The surveys are disrespectful to the student- teacher relationship. We don’t want our students to question our relationship or dedication to them. Putting them on the grading side does just that. It trivializes our interactions into three narrow categories: yes, no, and sometimes. How did that child feel right then in the moment? That’s what those are taking a gauge of. A “precise estimate” in the words of MAP testing. Well, a precise estimate doesn’t carry much clout with us. We know extensively what happens in our rooms, and we trust our administrators (the ones who hired us) to do the job they are trained to do and tell us if we are doing well or not. Why doesn’t the system trust the administrators? Why are we doing Student Surveys in 1st grade? Why do we feel these surveys are valid and not a complete waste of time with negative implications on the teacher-child relationship? Why are parents not informed of the private questions their child will be asked to answer?

We have so many unanswered questions about WHY we are forced to utilize MAP and Student Surveys. Last week, in search of some clarification, we submitted a letter to Dr. Ballard. He never responded personally; but, we do appreciate that he sent someone to meet with us about our concerns. However, the resolution was that we really work together to study MAP deeper. The suggestion was that we teach the test to the students. The advice was that in order to make the test less stressful for the students, we should run them through practice tests and mini computer based MAP lessons that will aid them in being more successful in taking the MAP. We are not sure how in doing so we would have a true picture of the students growth. But, moving on, basically, the districts answer was to take away more high-level learning experience and replace us, the professionals, with a computer program. The district did not address our concerns with the surveys at all.

So, families, here we are. We want you to know that we whole-heartedly love your children. We value and respect them. Your children are more than a number to us. They deserve more time in a rich learning environment, interacting with others, and growing deeper across academic and developmental domains. They do not deserve to be plugged into computers like robots.

We, in keeping with best practices, are unable to administer the MAP and student surveys to your children. They simply deserve a better educational experience than what either of those elements bring to the table. We informed the district of our decision last week. However, we felt like you had the right to know as well.

Education is about finding the deeper meaning. Education is about acting upon curiosity and utilizing creative attributes to figure something out. Education is about highlighting multiple intelligences and valuing uniqueness. Education is not squelching. Education is not standardization. We realize that we are just two teachers in a sea of many. In being conscientious objectors to these two items, we realize we are a number, just like the students in our classroom where the SDE is concerned. We realize that we are jeopardizing our jobs. But, if keeping our jobs means harming children and squelching them during a prime developmental span, then we want no part. When we walked across the stage and accepted our diplomas, when we received certifications from the state to teach, when we signed contracts with TPS, when we represented the model for early childhood education for the nation, when we accepted awards and recognition, we simultaneously accepted responsibility to uphold ethical practices and do what is in the best interest of children. The SDE has robbed us of our ethics. They are robbing children of their educational liberties.

Thank you for the opportunity to work with your children. Thank you for trusting us and valuing us a professionals. This is about what is in the best interest of the child. When education steps away from the child, all purpose is lost. It saddens us to put these experiences into words. It is with a heavy heart that we address our families in this way. However, we are hopeful that the district will understand the concerns and look at the research on standardized, high stakes testing in early childhood. We are hopeful that the district will stand with us in doing what is best for your children.

Sincerely,

Miss Karen Hendren

Mrs. Nikki Jones

A New Rebellion for Lunch and Recess!

The rebellion for lunch and recess is rocking Seattle!

Photos by Sarah Lang

The rally to defend lunch and recess time at the Wednesday Seattle school board meeting was an overwhelming success. A few dozen parents, teachers, and kids rallied and testified with one message: eating and playing–lunch and recess–are human rights.

The school district began the meeting  by announcing they would form a task-force that would make a recommendation on lunch and recess times within eighteen months.  This absurdly long timeline to grant students their basic rights only inflamed the passions of the protesters.

Families from a diverse geographical representation of Seattle schools presented moving stories and convincing research to make an unassailable case to expand lunch and recess times in the Seattle Public Schools.  One parent reveled that an audit conducted by parents in the Lunch and Recess Matter group over the last couple of weeks found some 50 schools in Seattle do not adhere to their own policy requiring a minimum of 20 min of time to eat.   Parents announced that at one school, students at the back of the lunch line only had five minuets to scarf down their food before the bell rang.  Others connected the loss of recess time to the increase in high-stakes testing.   One African immigrant parent gave a first hand account of what it feels like to be starving and told the school board it was unacceptable that his son didn’t receive enough time to eat and is then asked to throw away his food.  He told his son that he was not allowed to throw the food away and a teacher would have to do it for him–and demanded that the school district allow his son the time he needed not to waste food.  A student from a south end elementary school talked about recess, the wiggles, and how much fun it is to play.  Another parent delivered over 1,600 signatures that were collected on the “Save Recess” petition.

This movement is at the very beginning but has already shown great spirit and convincing arguments, including this oped by two of the new parent leaders, Dayna Provitt and Jana Robbins.  The Lunch and Recess group has the potential to launch a whole new parent and teacher coalition to transform the schools to make them responsive to the communities they serve.

deb_J_resscess

Parent leader Deb Escher ‏and Jesse Hagopian rally for their kids to have time for lunch and recess

Here then is a round up of some of the media this new movement received in its first major action:

 Jesse Hagopian teaches history and co-advises the Black Student Union at Garfield High School. His forthcoming edited book is titled, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

Reviews Are In: “More Than a Score” is “Exciting,” “Exceptional,” “With arguments to win over even the most skeptical school reformer.”

Cover_MTaSThe reviews are rolling in for the book I had the privileged editing, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High Stakes Testing, from the most prestigious book industry trade journals and progressive news outlets, and I am simply overwhelmed by the early critical acclaim—because what starts as a book club discussion, can end in an education revolution to reclaim assessment from the “testocracy.”

The reviewers have taken notice of More Than a Score’s rousing calls to action from Diane Ravitch in the foreword and Alfie Kohn in the introduction, and of the penetrating analysis of the ideas our authentic assessment movement will need defeat the test-and-punish model from the afterward by Wayne Au. And my supreme delight is derived from seeing the critics realize what I have known since all the essays were first submitted to me by the many parent, student, teacher, and administrator contributors to the book: There is a new leadership emerging across the country, with stirring stories of personal courage, in defense of public education.

More Than a Score officially releases December 2nd, 2014. Please share these reviews with your educational community, invite the contributing authors to speak to your community on our book tour, and consider preordering More Than a Score to help inspire and plan the movement against high-stakes testing at your school.

Here, then, are some of the early reviews:

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review:

The eagerly engaged voices assembled here present an action plan to combat the increase in high-stakes standardized testing currently plaguing K–12 education…the focus is on doing rather than shouting, and each essay in this anthology is a blueprint for civic action….The contributors build on Hagopian’s optimism for the blooming of an “educational spring” and make this book exceptional.

 Truthout:

More Than a Score is an exciting book, filled with anger, passion and creative strategizing over ways to defeat standardized testing. It’s also a call to arms and a well-argued plea for educational equity and a thoughtful defense of public education, the teaching profession and student-centered learning.

Kirkus:

Essays, speeches and interviews…come from students, parents and government officials, providing a comprehensive guide to the pitfalls of standardized testing, with arguments to win over even the most skeptical school reformer.

Kenzo Shibata, for The Nation magazine:

Shibata named More Than a Score one of “5 Books to Build a Movement for Education Justice” and writes, “When reading about education reform (coded language for privatization), it is easy to fall into a deep, dark pit of despair…. More Than a Score collects narratives from teachers, parents, students, academics and elected union leaders describing the growing grassroots resistance to testing gone mad.”

Jia_Rally

Jia Lee, teacher in New York City’s Earth School, a founding member of Teachers of Conscience, and contributing author to “More Than a Score.”

Contributing authors to More Than a Score include: Wayne Au, Carol Burris, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Sarah Chambers, Mallory Clarke, Jeanette Deutermann, Alma Flor Ada, Rosie Frascella, Alexia Garcia, Emily Giles, Helen Gym, Nikhil Goyal, Jesse Hagopian, Brian Jones, Alfie Kohn, Amber Kudla, John Kuhn, Jia Lee, Karen Lewis, Malcolm London, Barbara Madeloni, Cauldierre McKay, Mark Naison, Monty Neill, Diane Ravitch, Aaron Regunberg, Mary Cathryn D. Ricker, Stephanie Rivera, Kirstin Roberts, Peggy Robertson, Falmata Seid, Tim Shea, Phyllis Tashlik, Dao X. Tran

“Let Us Graduate!”: Garfield High School walks out on budget cuts

GHS_Walkout2Seattle’s Garfield High School has once again moved into collective struggle!–and we may to find out today if one of us is to be displaced from the building or if the power of protest has kept us safe from the budget-cut ax for now.

The Seattle School District announced on Friday, October 17, that Garfield High School would be forced to cut and transfer one teacher in a core subject area by Friday, October 24—or come up with $92,000. But on Thursday October 23, almost the entire building emptied in a mass walkout of students and educators against the budget cuts and has so far convinced the district to delay the cut.

The morning of the walkout, one of my colleagues was in the middle of reading the list of grievances that the rebellious colonists proclaimed against the British in the Declaration of Independence. As he told it, the students didn’t yet grasp the world-historic nature of the defiant document and were slouching in their seats, somewhat uninterested. Then, a member of the Associated Student Body government burst in the room and began listing the grievances students had with the Seattle school district that was proposing to cut a classroom teacher of a core subject at Garfield. The ASB representative closed his remarks by urging the students to take action—much the way the Declaration of Independence concludes—by breaking the rules and walking out of school against the budget cuts. Upon the Paul Revere imitator’s exit, the class returned to the text of the Declaration with a new excitement and understanding of the importance of speaking truth to power.

Among the objections cited by students and teachers to cutting a core subject teacher is that it would leave 150 students without a class and threaten the graduation of many. This is unacceptable, especially as Garfield has met its enrollment projections.  The other schools that have been told they would be affected by the displacement of staff are Stevens and B.F. Day elementary schools, Denny International and Madison middle schools and Hazel Wolf K-8.  Earlier this year another school, Gatewood Elementary, was told they would have to lose a teacher but the District gave them the option of raising $90,000 within one week to keep the teacher.  The Gatewood PTSA was able to raise the money in a week and staved off the displacement of the teacher.  While I am glad Gatewood was able to keep its teacher, it is simply unacceptable that schools with more wealthy PTSA’s can keep their teaching staff intact, while the res of the schools must face continual turnover.  We must once and for all end the fiction of “separate but equal” schooling, especially when it comes to funding and resources.

GHSWalkout_1At 1:50pm last Thursday, members of the award-winning Garfield High School drum-line announced the walkout with their signature hypnotic snare drum polyrhythms and led a mass exodus out of the building. Almost the entire school emptied and hundreds assembled on the front steps, students calling, “Let us graduate,” with teachers responding, “Let us educate.” Student body President Harald Hyllseth grabbed a bullhorn and declared, “If the motto of the Seattle Public Schools is truly, ‘Every Student, Every Classroom, Everyday,’ they won’t take a teacher away from us!” Garfield History teacher Hersch Mandelman addressed the crowd saying, “You students do not yet have the right to vote…but you do have the right to a voice!” School Board Director Sue Peters, also a Garfield High School parent, also addressed the crowd, saying she had talked with Superintendent Nyland and encouraged him to review the numbers and to pay to keep the teacher with money from the district’s rainy day fund–which totals millions of dollars. As well, a solidarity statement was read, sent from many faculty at Seattle’s Rainier Beach, which stated in part:

To The Students and Staff of Garfield High School,

The teachers at Rainier Beach High School stand by you as you take a stand against unfair cuts that will cancel much needed classes and resources for your students. We know how it feels to be understaffed and under-resourced and expected to meet all of the needs of all of our students.  It puts us in an impossible position and the students ultimately end up losing the most…An injury to one is an injury to all.

This isn’t he first time Garfield has had a major walkout. The last time was in 2011 when hundreds of students walked out of school in opposition to the announcement that the state would cut $2 billion from healthcare and education. They marched to city hall and demanded a meeting with the mayor, who appeared and praised their initiative. The students received national attention for their efforts, even getting their picture in the New York Times. Best of all, only weeks after they organized a second city-wide mass student walkout, the Washington State Supreme Court—under considerable pressure from public education advocates around the state—ruled that the state legislature was in violation of the Constitution and would need to increase funding to education with billions of more dollars.  Unfortunately, the legislature continues to violate our state Constitution, prompting an unprecedented “contempt of court” order by our state Supreme Court earlier this year.

We live in the wealthiest country on earth. Seattle is one of the wealthiest regions in nation, with multi-billion dollar companies—such as Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Boeing–dotting our skyline.  Cutting teachers nine weeks into the school year for lack of funds is outrageous.  Billionaires should not be allowed to hoard their wealth at the expense of our children.  Garfield is once again proving the great escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass right:

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. … If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

Walkout!: Seattle’s Garfield High School Students and Faculty Pledge Walkout on 10/23 Against Budget Cuts

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Garfield students walkout out against the $2 billion state budget cuts to health and education in 2011. Just weeks after their mass walkout, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the legislature was in violation of the state Constitution and ordered it to fully fund education.

Send your statements of solidarity today!

Seattle’s Garfield High School (where I graduated from and now teach history) has once again united the students, parents, and educators in common struggle.  Last Friday it was announced that our school had until the following Friday, October 24th, to raise $92,000 or else one of the teachers in a core subject area would be displaced.  We still don’t know which of us will be targeted for displacement, but we do know the pain of this cut will be severe.  As the joint letter to the superintendent from the Garfield staff and PTSA states, “One hundred and fifty students will have no place to go for one period each day, which will inevitably lead to greater class disruptions, absences, and truancy. One hundred and fifty students may not graduate on time.”

What makes this teacher displacement so outrageous is that the school district won’t explain why it is happening–as this King 5 News report makes clear.  It is a common disruptive practice of the school district to displace staff at a school if that school does not meet its enrollment projections, however Garfield has exceeded our enrollment projections.  What’s worse, the school district is sitting on tens of millions of dollars in their “rainy day” fund, yet is willing to throw our school into chaos over $92,000.

The students at Garfield were the first to raise their voice against this injustice, pledging to walkout of school to stop the district from threatening their teachers.  Once the Garfield teachers found out, they moved quickly to organize their own walkout (Send me your letter of solidarity to be read at the rally).  The PTSA the voted unanimously to support the walkout and united the whole school in this struggle.  On Thursday, October 23rd at 1:50 pm, Garfield High School will empty–to symbolize the impact it will have on 150 students–and the students will get a hands-on civics lesson about organizing against injustice.

Here then is the press release:

Garfield High School Walkout on 10/23 Over Late Budget Cuts | Walkout at 1:50 pm | 150 Students Affected

Seattle WA, October 22, 2014 – Garfield High School teachers pledged to join a student walkout over the cut of a yet to be specified core subject teacher, in the 9th week into the school year, which will impact 150 student schedules. The walkout is scheduled for 1:50 pm–30 minutes before the end of the school day–on Thursday, October 23. The Garfield High School PTSA and ASG voted to support these actions.

Teachers were shocked, saddened and bewildered to hear this news as Garfield exceeded its projected enrollment this year. The Garfield faculty authorized a letter to the Superintendent and the School Board, outlining the impact of the cut this far into the school year (see the letter below). Teachers are especially concerned about the impact on students’ ability to graduate on time. It is not yet known which core teacher will be cut and this has thrown the entire Garfield community into fear at a time when we should be focusing on how to best support all of our students.

The timing of the walkout, 1:50 pm, symbolizes the impact of cutting one core teacher at this late date. Core classes filled to a capacity of 30 students total 150 students per full-time teacher. This means that 150 students will have holes in their schedules during the day–roughly 10% of the student body.

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Restore Recess: A Movement is Born

Sign the Save Recess Petition today!Seattle Schools: Save Recess!

You have heard about Seattle’s fight for a $15 minimum wage, or the teachers who organized a mass boycott of the MAP test.  But you might not be aware of the newest movement–organized for one of the most basic human rights–that was recently ignited in the emerald city: The struggle for the right to play.

Parents and educators across Seattle are taking action to defend their children’s right to ample time for recess and lunch.  Parents and students at Whittier Elementary school set this movement in motion when they voiced objection to the school reducing lunch and recess time from 40 minutes to half an hour–gaining important local TV and media attention.  Parents at Leschi Elementary soon launched an online petition that has gathered nearly a thousand signatures in a few short days.  Now there is a city-wide organization of parents, students, and teachers called, “Lunch and Recess Matter.”  Lunch and Recess Matter is organizing a rally at the Seattle School District headquarters before the November 5th school board meeting (If you have a message of solidarity, relevant research, or attend a school with an important recess story, please contact me).

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an editorial for the Seattle Times, with the headline, “Schools Need to Learn the Importance of Recess” where I pointed out preparation for high-stakes exams is leaving little time for students to solve problems on the playground.  Now there are over a dozen schools in the district with less than 20 minuets of recess time.  I also pointed to the fact that the fastest shrinking recesses are in school the serve predominantly low-income and students of color. I could have never known that it would contribute so quickly to such vibrant organization across the school district.  All the research backs up this nascent movement in Seattle for recess, including findings by the American Academy of Pediatrics that “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.”

It is now clear that parents and educators are no longer willing to see their children’s education and health be degraded through the gradual elimination of recess.  It’s time for the Seattle School District–and districts across the nation–to listen to the research, the parents, the students, and the educators: restore recess now!

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Jesse Hagopian teaches history and co-advises the Black Student Union at Garfield High School. His forthcoming edited book “More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing” includes a foreword by Diane Ravitch, introduction by Alfie Kohn, and an Afterward by Wayne Au (Haymarket, December).

Play Over Test Prep–My op-ed in the Seattle Times

Fifth graders Jordan Gregorcyk-Landrey, top, and Nicole Mut, bottom, play during recess at Edgar Allan Poe Elementary Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, in Houston. Parents are lobbying the Houston school board to make 30 minutes of daily recess mandatory in elementary schools. The new Poe Elementary principal agreed that unstructured play time was important for students. Photo: Cody Duty, Houston Chronicle / © 2011 Houston Chronicle“Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.”

– Plato

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” –  Mr. Rogers

The Seattle Times published my op-ed today on how the Seattle Public Schools are following a national trend in the reduction of recess time and the increase of time spent on preparing for standardized tests.  I also point to a recent study that shows it is more often Seattle schools which serve predominantly students of color that have reduced recess, despite the overwhelming research from the American Academy of Pediatrics (and many others) that recess contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.  Please read my op-ed at the Seattle Times, leave a comment, and share the article with your PTA, union, or community organization.  Our movement to reclaim education from corporate reformers must also reclaim the playground!

Jesse Hagopian Guest: Schools need to learn the importance of recess

Special to The Times

MY 5-year-old is bursting at the seams with excitement with the start of kindergarten this year.

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Jesse Hagopian teaches history and co-advises the Black Student Union at Garfield High School. His forthcoming edited book “More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing” includes a foreword by Diane Ravitch, introduction by Alfie Kohn, and Afterward by Wayne Au (Haymarket, December).

“More Than a Score” named in The Nation’s “5 Books to Build a Movement for Education Justice!”

I am thrilled to announce that Kenzo Shibata, writing for the current issue of The Nation magazine, named the forthcoming book I edited, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, to the list of “5 Books to Build a Movement for Education Justice.” The book’s forward was written by Diane Ravitch, the introduction by Alfie Kohn, and the afterward by Wayne Au.

Shibata wrote in part, “More Than a Score collects narratives from teachers, parents, students, academics and elected union leaders describing the growing grassroots resistance to testing gone mad.”

Cover_MTaSI am greatly honored that our book made this list with such a wonderful collection of must read volumes in defense of public education, including, SCHOOL REFORM, CORPORATE STYLE: Chicago, 1880–2000, by Dorothy Shipps, THIS IS NOT A TEST: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, by José Vilson, THE TEACHER WARS: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, by Dana Goldstein, and STRIKE FOR AMERICA: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity, by Micah Uetricht.

Please share this list of books with everyone you know who longs for the day when the “testocracy” no longer runs our schools and educators, parents, and students are respected. When the book is released, I hope to make it to a town near you on a book tour to help speed up that day.

Announcing “More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing”

Pre-order available for More Than a Score

Edited by Jesse Hagopian, Foreword by Diane Ravitch, Introduction by Alfie Kohn, Afterword by Wayne Au

A teacher threatened with having her teaching license revoked for organizing a testing boycott explains how her school defeated the standardized test.  Cover_MTaS

A valedictorian shares the speech she delivered to her graduating class about why her test scores don’t make her any smarter than the rest of her peers and why you should contact a state legislator to oppose turning students into a score.

A parent explains how the tests sunk her child into despair and how she found the strength to organize a mass opt out campaign of thousands of parents across her district.

A superintendent tells of the words uttered by a state legislator that made him an activist–and the action that he took to help defeat ten out of the fifteen high-stakes test that were required in his state for graduation.

We are in the midst of the largest uprising against high-stakes testing in US history and I am thrilled to announce that the forthcoming book that I edited and contributed to, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes, is now available for pre-order.  I hope that the stories of resistance from front-line fighters, as well as analysis from some of the most renowned educators, inspire you to join this movement to reclaim and transform public education.

Releasing December 2nd from Haymarket Books
View this email in your browser
Edited by Jesse Hagopian

Foreword by Diane Ravitch
Introduction by Alfie Kohn
Afterword by Wayne Au

With Contributions from:
Karen Lewis
Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Carol Burris
Mark Naison
Barbara Madeloni
Brian Jones
Stephanie Rivera
Monty Neill

John Kuhn
& many more…

For too long so-called education reformers, mostly billionaires, politicians, and others with little or no background in teaching, have gotten away with using standardized testing to punish our nation’s youth and educators.

Now, across the country, students are walking out, parents are opting their children out, and teachers are refusing to administer these detrimental exams. In fact, the “reformers” today find themselves facing the largest revolt in US history against high-stakes, standardized testing.

More Than a Score is a collection of essays, poems, speeches, and interviews—accounts of personal courage and trenchant insights—from frontline fighters who are defying the corporate education reformers, often at great personal and professional risk, and fueling a national movement to reclaim and transform public education.

Along with the voices of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and grassroots education activists, the book features renowned education researchers and advocates, including Diane Ravitch, Alfie Kohn, Wayne Au, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Karen Lewis, Carol Burris, Wayne Au, and Mark Naison.

JESSE HAGOPIAN 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 test in 2013. He is an associate editor of Rethinking Schools, a founding member of Social Equality Educators, and winner of the 2013 “Secondary School Teacher of Year” award from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences.

Available for pre-order now
Select advance review copies available on request

Contact: Jim Plank, Haymarket Books,
jim@haymarketbooks.org, 773-583-7884

Releasing December 2, 2014 | Trade Paper $16 | ISBN: 9781608463923 
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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.

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