Author Archive: I AM AN EDUCATOR

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

GarfieldStudentWalkout_mh077059-600x400

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.

 ###

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!

—-

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.

—–

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
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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.

“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.

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