By Jesse Hagopian, first published at The Progressive.
The Jocks.The marching band. The cheerleaders. The Black Student Union. The teachers. And the administration. These disparate high school groups rarely come together.
But at times of great peril and of great hope, barriers that once may have seemed permanent can collapse under a mighty solidarity. The crisis of police terror in black communities across the country is just such a peril—and the resistance to that terror, symbolized by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem—is just such a hope.
On September 16th, the entire football team of Garfield High School, the school I teach at in Seattle, joined the protest that Kaepernick set in motion by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. While the Garfield Bulldogs were among the first high schools to have an entire team protest the anthem, it has since spread to schools around the nation. Their bold action for justice made headlines around the country. Their photo appeared in the issue of Time Magazine that featured Kaepernick on the cover CBS news came to Garfield to do a special on the protest. And in the New York Times, Kaepernick himself commented on the Garfield football team saying, “I think it’s amazing.”
It was a rejection of the rarely recited third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which celebrates the killing of black people, the ongoing crisis of state violence against black people, and an affirmation that black lives matter. As the Garfield football team said in a statement they later released,
“We are asking for the community and our leaders to step forward to meet with us and engage in honest dialogue. It is our hope that out of these potentially uncomfortable conversations positive, impactful change will be created.”
And those conversations led them to analyze the way racism is connected to other forms of oppression and the way those forms of oppression disfigure many aspects of their lives, including the media and the school system. Yes, football players publicly challenging homophobia may be rare, but the bulldog scholar athletes aren’t having it.
Here is the teams’s six-point program to confront injustice and oppression:
1. Equality for all regardless of race, gender, class, social standing and/or sexual orientation—both in and out of the classroom as well as the community.
2. Increase of unity within the community. Changing the way the media portrays crime. White people are typically given justification while other minorities are seen as thugs, etc.
3. Academic equality for students. Certain schools offer programs/tracks that are not available at all schools or to all students within that school. Better opportunities for students who don’t have parental or financial support are needed. For example, not everyone can afford Advanced Placement (AP) testing fees and those who are unable to pay those fees, are often not encouraged to enroll into those programs. Additionally, the academic investment doesn’t always stay within the community.
4. Lack of adequate training for teachers to interact effectively with all students. Example, “Why is my passion mistaken for aggression?” “Why when I get an A on a test, does the teacher tell me, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could pull that off.’”
5. Segregation through classism.
6. Getting others to see that institutional racism does exist in our community, city, state, etc.
The rebellion didn’t stop with the Bulldog’s football team.
The Garfield High School girls’ volleyball team all took a knee. At the following football game, the marching band and the cheerleaders joined the players on bended knee for justice. At the homecoming game—a space that is more associated with mascots and rivalry then with protest and solidarity—Black Student Union members lifted a sign during the national anthem proclaiming,
“When we kneel you riot, but when we’re shot you’re quiet.”
The sign references death threats directed at Kaepernick as well as cowardly wishes of harm made against the Garfield football team for their actions. One Black Student Union officer told me:
“The anthem doesn’t represent what is currently happening in the U.S. and what has happened in the past—from slavery to police brutality and mass incarceration. Don’t be mad at us for protesting against these issues, be mad at the people who caused them.”
Our school has a long tradition of combating injustice. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s only visit to Seattle he delivered his speech at Garfield High School. One of the young students at that speech was Aaron Dixon, who would later see Stokely Carmichael go on to graduate from Garfield and help found the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Since my time returning to teach at my alma mater I have seen Garfield continue this tradition. In 2011, Garfield high school students lead a walkout against the state legislature’s plan to cut $2 billion from healthcare and education. In 2013, the teachers voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, helping to ignite a national revolt against high-stakes testing in what commentators have called the “Education Spring.”
When a grand jury failed to indict Darrin Wilson for the murder of unarmed African American Michael Brown, the Garfield BSU lead a walkout of some 1,000 students, joining with the NAACP rally, and help launch the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle. In January of 2015, Garfield High School’s Quincy Jones Auditorium (named after our celebrated musician alum) was packed with some 600 students, parents, and community members to hear from political sportswriter Dave Zirin and the legendary 1968 Olympic bronze medalist John Carlos—the Black track star who joined teammate Tommie Smith in raising his fist to the sky during the medal ceremony playing of the national anthem.
All of these events have aided struggles for social justice and have made Garfield a truly fulfilling place to work. But the solidarity exhibited this fall has stirred the deepest emotion in me. This moment was made possible by remarkable support from coaches, educators, counselors, mentors, and administrators.As head football coach Joey Thomas said, “One thing we pride ourselves on is we have open and honest conversations about what is going on in this society. It led kids to talk about the social injustice they experience.” Garfield High School principal Ted Howard also gave his support in a statement that read,
“The Garfield High School Football Team has taken a powerful, united stance with the hope of being a catalyst for positive dialogue and change. The youth and their coaches have put a great deal of thought and heart into their decision to take a knee at their games… I ask our community to support our young people, our team and our leaders.”
One teacher organized the Garfield High School staff for a photo to publicly demonstrate solidarity with the football and volleyball team. As the players approached, the staff broke out in cheers and applause that sent my heart soaring.
And the work continues.
At Garfield this year, educators started a new initiative to combat racial segregation between honors and regular humanities classes by un-tracking 9th grade classes. The Seattle Education Association recently resolved to endorse educators across Seattle wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school.
Great teachers are important. Yet as history has shown, struggle is the greatest teacher of all. The lessons this movement has imparted on young people today have been truly revelatory. As a member of the Garfield girls volleyball team recently expressed to her teachers:
“I was taking a knee for all of my fallen brothers’ and sisters’ lives who have been taken due to racial injustice and have been taken well before God called them home. I also took a knee because I don’t need to gloriously praise a flag that only seems to praise one class and race.”
Jesse Hagopian is the Seattle Fellow for the Progressive Magazine, a social studies teacher and Black Student Union advisor at Garfield High School, and the editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.
Today marks the first day scheduled for Common Core testing, such as it is, at Seattle’s Garfield High School. As I reported last week, Garfield educators were debating about how best to oppose the new deeply flawed Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Common Core tests, when the parents spoke and opted out hundreds of students from the test. With so many students having opted out of the Common Core tests, the teachers are no longer being asked to administer the exam—a huge victory in this struggle against the testocracy! (Now the few remaining students who don’t have an opt out letter will be pulled out of class individually).
During the period when Garfield teachers thought they were going to be asked to administer the SBAC Common Core test, Heather Robison, an inspiration in the struggle for authentic assessment, decided she would be a conscientious test objector. What fallows is Ms. Robison’s courageous and deeply insightful declaration, issued to the Seattle Public Schools and the politicians who legislate education–with a challenge for them to take the very exams they are pushing on our schools!
Once you have read Ms. Robison’s words, it will be clear that educators should be driving assessment rather than multibillion-dollar companies. And it should also be clear why we are going to win this struggle.
Dear Superintendent Nyland, Seattle Public School Board, Legislators, and educational policy makers,
I am a National Board Certified teacher with a Master’s Degree in English and two years of Doctoral-level coursework in Curriculum and Instruction. I have twelve years of teaching experience, ten working in public high schools and two at the University level. I am passionate in my work, and have rigorous expectations for my students and myself.
I currently teach at Garfield High School, where half of my day is spent with Advanced Placement students who represent some of the most privileged and highest performing children in our city. The other half of my day is spent with General Education students, over a quarter of whom receive Special Education services. Across all sections, I have homeless students, students with restraining orders against abusers, students who read and write below grade level, students who currently read and write at a college level, and students who vacation in Europe every spring.
From this vantage point, my conscience demands that I publicly and emphatically assert that high-stakes standardized tests like the SBA used as graduation requirements and teacher evaluations tools are detrimental to the meaningful education of ALL of my students. Administering such exams goes against my professional and moral judgment.
For ALL of my students, these tests are a waste of time in which they are forced to be passive test-takers rather than active knowledge creators. This year’s proposed test took over two weeks of instructional time from classes. Superintendent Nyland, a recent email from you stated, “the amount of SBA testing time for each individual student is relatively small (about eight hours depending on grade level).” What a drastically skewed perspective that sentence reveals. Eight hours is an enormous time investment for an unreliable and inappropriately used assessment, enough to push an entire unit from the year’s curriculum.
For my students who are victims of the opportunity gap, the SBA disproportionately hurts their identity as capable learners and instead reinforces an identity of failure. These exams can only ever show a limited sample of student ability, and the cultural bias inherent in any standardized assessment exacerbates the SBA’s inability to reveal what my students truly know and can do.
Even if the SBA were a more reliable, valid, and culturally responsive measure of student ability, the learning environment created around it devalues true intellectual curiosity, risk-taking, and critical thinking. For ALL of my students, high-stakes tests breed a reductive mindset of “Will this be on the test?” and myopic focus on points rather than learning.
Yet students crave authentic challenges, and on a gut level they recognize the faults of a test-based system. When I first announced the upcoming SBA exams to my 11th graders, multiple hands shot up and asked, “Can we opt out of this?” These are high-performing students who are the most likely to succeed on this test, yet they were frustrated at the prospect of losing class time for this detached and inauthentic measure of their performance.
Measures that identify students in need of extra help are an essential part of an effective education system, but they must not be attached to high stakes. Doing so invalidates them as a true diagnostic tool intended to help children and their teachers.
We need high standards for our educational systems, and we must do more to prepare all of our students to be successful in a demanding and complex world. Exams like the SBA do not take us in that direction. My teaching practice and that of my peers asks students to do far more than these exams do. We crave authentic and challenging modes of assessment.
Please consider the work of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which has opted out of standardized tests since 1997 and instead built an assessment system developed, evaluated, and continually revised by actual educators. Instead of taking tests, students are given ownership of their own project-based learning, which includes evaluation by community professionals in the discipline. This group of schools has some of the highest rates of college admittance with one of the lowest rates of college attrition. Their success was achieved with a true range of students pulled from the economic and cultural diversity of New York City neighborhoods.
Standardized exams like the SBA also rob teachers of critical aspects of the assessment process. As educators, taking part in the design of assessment tasks for students and evaluating them in a collaborative and peer-reviewed process is an essential part of best practices. The SBA compartmentalizes and fractures this dynamic process and cuts teachers off from invaluable information and opportunities for reflection about their students and their tools of instruction and assessment.
Policy makers—in teaching and learning there are no shortcuts. Exams like the SBA attempt to shortcut, streamline, and profitize the education system. This benefits test makers, but not students. The schools are a reflection of the social problems of the larger society. If we truly want to close the gaps and inequities in our social institutions, we must address issues of poverty and income inequality. That is a tall order, but the work of the Consortium schools shows an alternative that can offer meaningful success for ALL students.
At home I have a three-year-old son. He is an exuberant, boundary-pushing little boy who will enter kindergarten the fall of 2016. I feel such anxiety at the thought of subjecting him to a learning environment founded on SBA. He is filled with joy and innate curiosity to learn and experiment, a joy that I seek to coax alive in my own students.
I challenge you to go online and take the practice tests of the SBA. Compare that experience to the approach of New York Consortium schools. Which would you prefer for your own child?
Finally, please listen to me. Please recognize my expertise and consider my professional opinion. I work to challenge my students and myself with research-supported best practices for ALL students. Trust and consider the informed opinion of so many of my peers who ask to end high-stakes testing. On a daily basis, we see the damage testing wreaks on our efforts for authentic education, and the disproportionate damage inflicted on our most vulnerable students.
SBA practice exams: http://wa.portal.airast.org/training-tests/
New York Standards Performance Consortium http://performanceassessment.org/performance/index.html
Garfield High School educators thank Nathan Hale High School for their resistance to Common Core testing
Below is the thank you letter that educators at Seattle’s Garfield High School wrote to Nathan Hale High School for their courage in taking the lead in the movement to oppose the new “Smarter Balanced Assessment,” Common Core Tests. Their example helped inspire Garfield to win a major victory against the SBA test, and has helped ignite the opt out movement around Seattle. Seattle’s opt out movement is now the largest in the city’s history. Thank you Nathan Hale!
Garfield High School’s open thank you letter to Nathan Hale on the Smarter Balanced Assessment
We are writing to congratulate you for taking a bold stand against the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium testing. Your school Senate’s vote to oppose the SBA has helped many all across Seattle find the courage to join this growing movement for authentic assessments. We educators at Garfield High School also find great objection to the SBA, including:
- Loss of instructional time
Projections estimate that the SBA will take students some 9 hours to complete. However, our colleagues at schools around Seattle have reported that the SBA is taking much longer. This is an unacceptable loss of class and learning time.
- Failure and demoralization by design
The SBAC and our state’s politicians agreed on a “cut score”—meaning the score that indicates if a student has not passed the exam—which they project will fail at least 60% of students in math and reading. Educators and our professional organization were not consulted about the cut scores, revealing that their determination was a political decision rather than an educational one. We believe in high expectations and supporting our students to reach ambitious goals. We do not believe in rushing to implement an exam—one that has not even yet been shown to be reliable by the test maker’s own admission—that will result in mass failure and demoralization of children.
- Loss of library and computer labs
In addition to students losing class time to take the test, our computer labs are monopolized for weeks with test taking and cannot be used for educational purposes. Because we have a computer lab in the library, the library is shuttered for learning and research while the SBA is administered. This disproportionately impacts students from lower income families who are more likely not to have computers or Internet at home. We object to our educational resources being squandered in this way.
- Technological breakdowns
The needed technology and IT support was not implemented and schools have reported technological breakdowns with the online administration of the SBA. We know of several Seattle schools where students have lost hours futilely attempting to log on to the exam. At other schools the wrong codes were given to administrators of the test and students wasted an entire week administering what turned out to only be the practice exam and they are now required to spend another week taking the actual SBA. The failure to properly equip the Seattle schools with the training, technological upgrades, and the IT support needed to administer the SBA is evidence that our district is not ready for the exam.
- SBA is not a valid test
The Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has confirmed that the Smarter Balanced Assessment has not yet been shown to be a valid test. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium acknowledged this in a recent memo where they wrote that they have not yet determined the “external validity” of the exam.
- Special Needs Students negatively impacted
Students receiving extra support—our English Language Learners, Special Education students, and students in math support—are especially negatively impacted by the over testing that the SBA is contributing to. These students are in need of MORE instructional time and will lose more precious class time hours to the SBA. As well, the glossary provided for ELL students taking the SBA is not translated into all the languages our students speak, most notably none of the African languages—a clear violation of the students’ rights and further indication of the invalidity of the exam.
As a result of the above considerations, Garfield’s staff takes the following positions on assessment and the SBA:
- Authentic assessment
While we oppose the SBA, we want to be clear that we in no way oppose assessment. We believe that assessing student learning is a vital component of an effective classroom and a high preforming school system. This is why Garfield teachers joined a city-wide teacher created organization (along with representatives from Nathan Hale) in 2013 called, “The Teacher Work Group on Assessment” which created guidelines called “Markers of Quality Assessment” that defined authentic assessments as those that reflect actual student knowledge and learning, not just test-taking skills; are educational in and of themselves; are free of gender, class, and racial bias; are differentiated to meet students’ needs; allow students opportunities to go back and improve; and undergo regular evaluation and revision by educators. Since then Garfield educators have begun to research, develop, and implement authentic forms of assessment in order to scaffold student learning and advance the understanding of a given concept (as reported in the Seattle Times and documented in the forthcoming film, “Beyond Measure”).
- Educators have a professional responsibility to oppose flawed testing
Creating an education system that supports students to reach their potential will require educators asserting their professional expertise about flawed exams. We are fortunate that at Garfield there is a high level of consciousness about limitations of high-stakes testing and the SBA. In fact, the students who are being asked to take the 11th grade SBA are the very same class whose families help lead the boycott of the MAP test when the students were in 9th grade.
At Garfield students already take the state HSPE exam, the ELA, the EOCs, the AP test, the PSAT, the SAT, and others. The over use of standardized testing was one of the things that led the staff at Garfield High School, and several other schools, to refuse to administer the MAP test. When we took our stand against the MAP test, Nathan Hale educators sent us a statement of support that meant a lot to us–and it was collective action and the power of solidarity that was finally able to scrap the MAP test. Can you imagine the conditions we would be facing if educators, parents and students hadn’t boycotted the MAP test and the Superintendent hadn’t rescinded the MAP testing requirement? If the MAP was still mandated for high schools it would require an additional two to three standardized tests per year, resulting in hours more of lost instructional time.
- Parents have the right to decide what is best for their children
This year we have had so many parents flood the school with opt out forms that teachers don’t have to decide whether we should administer the exam or not because there aren’t enough students who have been given permission from their parents to take the test to warrant taking whole classes to the computer lab to administer the exam. Parents exercising their right to opt out have allowed us to retain valuable instructional time. This mass opt out strategy of parents is a victory for student learning because it will allow teachers to keep teaching.
Nathan Hale, thank you for taking the first step in demanding the very best in assessment for all students. The thoughtful process and the through research you conducted around the SBA raised awareness for everyone in the city about the pitfalls of the SBA. By raising this issue you have helped speed up that day when all of our students are evaluated with assessments designed to understand their thought process, nurture a love of learning, and promote critical thinking, rather than simply to punish.
Staff members at Garfield High School
Seattle’s Garfield High School Opt Out Movement Scores Huge Victory over “Smarter Balanced” Common Core testing!
What will happen at Garfield High School with Common Core testing? I have been asked this question by people all over the country as they learned that this would be the first year that Common Core testing would come to Washington State. All year, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School have debated whether to administer the new Common Core test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA). Garfield High School became a leader in the movement for authentic assessment in 2013 when the staff voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, and were joined by the parents and students in a mass opt out campaign. After the tested subject teachers were threatened with a ten day suspension without pay for refusing to administer the MAP, the superintendent finally gave in at the end of the school year and announced that the test would no longer be mandatory at the high school level. Many took inspiration from the MAP test boycott, and during the ensuing months an “education spring” was born as students, parents, and teacher’s refused high-stakes testing across the country. This ongoing education spring has now produced the largest uprising against high-stakes testing in U.S. history, highlighted by the 60,000 students who were opted out in New York State alone. Many teachers at Garfield knew that as a faculty that helped ignite the struggle for authentic assessment, it was important to send a clear message against the new SBA testing that in many ways is worse that the MAP test. Then Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School Senate—the governing body of the school comprised of educators, administrators, parents, and students—announced that the school was going to refuse to administer the SBA test. This was a huge inspiration for our staff, but then the Superintendent of the Seattle Schools issued public statement that threatened to suspend teachers who gave notice that they would refuse to administer a standardized tests—and terminate the teaching licenses of any teacher who refused to administer a test without giving notice. This threat gave Garfield’s staff pause—and yet some of my courageous colleagues continued to express that they would join the “Teachers of Conscience” movement. Then an amazing thing happened. Parents began organizing a mass opt out campaign. The Garfield PTSA invited Dr. Wayne Au, author of “Unequal by Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality,” to explain the problems with the SBA. We soon realized that the students who were being asked to take the 11th grade SBA are the very same class whose families help lead the boycott of the MAP test when the students were in 9th grade back in 2013! I am excited to announce that the parent opt out campaign at Garfield High School has resulted in 221 students already opting out of the 11th grade SBA with two weeks to go before the test is supposed to be administered! In fact, so many students have opted out of the Common Core tests that the decision whether to administer the test or not was taken away from Garfield educators; with so many opt outs, the majority students in every class wouldn’t be taking the exam and therefore it is against the testing rules to have them in the computer lab while the test is being administered. What this means is that the teachers are no longer being asked to administer the exam and instead the school administration will have to pull the individual students out who will be taking the test and take them to the computer lab. The fact that we have scored this resounding victory against Common Core testing, before the mass flunking of our students with an invalid test, is a wonderful thing. And it isn’t only Garfield and Nathan Hale—hundreds of students have opted out of the SBA test at Ingraham High School, and Roosevelt High School. In fact, with dozens of schools across Seattle with parents reporting opt outs, the city is now experiencing the most opt outs in its history. These tests are designed to obscure the things that matter most—such as collaboration towards a common goal. Seattle’s educational leaders at schools across Seattle are teaching an immeasurable lesson by demonstrating the power of collective action against injustice.
Two weeks ago Dan Beekman of the Seattle Times, a Garfield High School graduate himself, returned to the Bulldog house in search of a story about the Black Lives Matter movement that went beyond forecasting traffic delays that could result from protests or tallying the numbers arrested at demonstrations.
Some ten members of the Black Student Union at Garfield, which I co-advise with Kristina Clark, gave an over 1 hour interview that left me emotionally drained but more determined than ever to act against police brutality. Mr. Beekman and I admitted to each other afterword that we had trouble fighting back tears as the students explained the fear they experience everyday caused by those tasked with “public safety.”
As Garfield BSU Vice President Issa George said during the interview, “We are still fighting oppression and we are still fighting for our lives.” And the students went on to recount the many actions they have taken to build this new movement.
These youth are determined to be part of a force that transforms our country into place that wouldn’t causally dispose of the lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many other young African Americans. Their vision of remaking the nations’ institutions extends from the schoolhouse to the courthouse to the jailhouse and beyond. On December 10, The City of Seattle’s Human Rights Commission recognized the Garfield BSU’s powerful voice for justice, awarding them the “Rising Human Rights Leadership” prize at a gala event at Seattle’s Town Hall.
This new civil rights movement that has erupted across the country has shined a light on the horrors of police violence in Black communities. But it has done something else. It has also exposed the corporate education reformers–who often frame their policies of increasing the use of high-stakes tests and privatizing education as vital to closing the “achievement gap”—as being irrelevant to the issues that Black people care the most about. Did anyone see Bill Gates, Eli Broad, or the Walton Family at the last Black Lives Matter protest? The fact is, the richest one percent in this nation, who are using their wealth to make education about rote memorization in preparation for the next high-stakes exam, rather than critical thinking or problem solving, have been silent about the issues that are most important to Black youth.
I don’t want to hear another billionaire say one more word about policies aimed at Black youth or the “achievement gap,” until they have met with the Black Student Union and asked them what they believe is most important.
As Garfield High School Black Student Union Treasurer Elijah Haynes said during the interview, “I have power in my voice and I’m using it.” Are the education reformers listening?
Jesse Hagopian teaches history and co-advises the Black Student Union at Garfield High School. He edited the book, “More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing,” which includes a foreword by Diane Ravitch, an introduction by Alfie Kohn, and an afterward by Wayne Au (Haymarket, December).
While in Boston speaking about my recently released edited book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with the great EduShyster, who asked me important questions about the connection between the recent rise in student protests against police brutality and high-stakes, standardized testing. Here’s what I told her:
Jesse Hagopian says protests against police and high-stakes testing have more in common than you think… EduShyster: You happened to be in Boston recently giving a talk about the new uprising against high-stakes testing on the same night that thousands of people here were protesting police violence and institutional racism. Here’s the people’s mic—explain how the two causes are related. Jesse Hagopian: If I could have, I would have moved the talk to the protest to connect the issues. I would have said that the purpose of education is to empower young people to help solve problems in their community and their society. The purpose of standardized testing is to learn how to eliminate wrong answer choices rather than how to critically think or organize with people around you or collaborate on issues you care about. These tests are disempowering kids from the skills they really need to solve the big problems that our society and kids themselves are facing—like rampant police brutality and police terror. What’s the point of making our kids college and career ready if they can be shot down in the street and there’s no justice? You look at how testing and the preparation for testing now monopolizes class time—that is the American school system. If our schools emphasized rote memorization and dumbing down, that would be unfortunate. But the problem goes so far beyond that. We face huge problems as a society: mass incarceration, endless wars, income inequality. Our education system has to be about empowering students to solve those problems. EduShyster: I can think of one key difference between the two movements. All of the people who are protesting testing are white suburban moms who are unhappy that their kids aren’t as brilliant as they thought. Hagopian: That comment is offensive for lots of reasons but one of the biggest is that it dismisses the parents and teachers of color who are leaders of this movement. Look at Castle Bridge Elementary in New York where more than 80% of the parents opted their kids out of the test. The PTA leaders who helped spearhead that movement are both parents of color. Look at Karen Lewis in Chicago, who has led a civil rights struggle for the schools Chicago’s students deserve, which includes a fight against high-stakes testing. In Seattle we organized a multi-racial coalition, and some of the most vocal opponents of the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test were Black teachers, myself included. We were able to partner with the NAACP and it was a really powerful coalition. At one point the NAACP held a press conference and said *Look: the MAP test is the tool that’s used to decide who is in AP classes which are overwhelmingly white. This is a tool of institutional racism and tracking and the MAP tests have long played that role. If this is the metric that we use to decide who is advanced and who isn’t, and only white children end up being identified as advanced, then something clearly isn’t working.* EduShyster: In your new book, More than a Score, you argue that the movement against high-stakes testing actually started with civil rights activists. Explain. Hagopian: The first major test resisters were Black intellectuals. Horace Mann Bond has a beautiful passage where he describes how these tests are used to rank and sort our children and how, when you test the kids in the rich neighborhoods who have access to all of the resources and of course they do better. It has nothing to do with intelligence—it has to do with access to resources. What he wrote in the 1930’s is exactly what we see happening in our schools today. Or W.E.B. Dubois, founder of the NAACP, who spoke out against early standardized tests because they were grafted onto the public schools via the eugenics movement, the idea being that it was possible to prove white supremacy through *scientific* methods. He knew from the very beginning that these tests were designed to show Black failure, and they’re still showing that. The fact that there’s been such a stability of test scores—that rich white students score the best—shows that these are a tool for ranking and sorting. And increasingly these tests are being used to shut down schools in poor neighborhoods and which serve predominantly students of color. EduShyster: Here’s where I have to channel one of my favorite critics. Let’s call him Math Teacher, because that’s the name he uses when we tangle on my blog. He teaches at a Boston charter school, and as he’ll be quick to ask, if those schools are failing to teach kids at the most basic level, should they be kept open? Hagopian: That’s a great question. I think we have acknowledge that, as much as I vehemently defend our public schools against corporatization and what I call the testocracy, our schools have long played the role of ranking and sorting students into different strata of society and have long sorted students of color in particular into the bottom. There’s a tension in public schools because on the one hand they play that ranking and sorting function, but on the other hand they hold radical democratic possibilities to empower people with the knowledge that they need to transform society. That’s why schools are contested spaces and why every civil rights movement in our history has been focused on the schools in some way. We need to transform our school system. The question is *who are the best people to do that?* And the best people to do that are teachers and parents—not billionaires or the one percent. That sorting process worked out just fine for them. EduShyster: What if the billionaires suddenly decided to transform the public schools into the sorts of schools where they send their own kids? Hagopian: I’ve often said that the MAP boycott didn’t start at Garfield High School, but Lakeside High School, where Bill Gates went and where his kids go. The private schools for the elites never administer the MAP tests and all of these other tests because for their children they want the performing arts, creativity, time to develop their children into leaders, libraries with tens of thousands of volumes, study abroad programs, Olympic swimming pools. But they want for our kids rote memorization and that’s getting *career and college ready.* We say *what’s good enough for your child is good enough for ours.* EduShyster: Garfield High is associated with rabble-rousing teachers because of the successful MAP boycott, but students there are really active too. I follow you on Twitter, so I know that in addition to walking out to protest the Ferguson decision, students also walked out over budget cuts. Are all of these walkouts getting in the way of their test prep? Hagopian: Garfield High is going through an incredible season of student activism. I’m the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School, whose members were recently recognized by the Seattle Human Rights Commission for being rising human rights leaders. After the Darren Wilson decision, they called a meeting in the cafeteria, held a speakout, then 1,000 students marched out of Garfield and to a rally at the NAACP. I happened to be driving down the road and had to pull over because all of a sudden here come 1,000 students chanting *hands up, don’t shoot.* The students will tell you that the problem isn’t just in Ferguson or on Staten Island, but with institutional racism. They look around and it’s there in the Seattle Public Schools with, for example, disproportionate suspension rates for minority students. They feel like it’s their responsibility to highlight these issues and to act on their own behalf. They’ve become the teachers. They’re teaching a whole city about the depths of racism in our society and what it means to stand up for what you believe in. That’s exactly what education should be about. These students didn’t just become activists overnight, by the way. The last few years, students protested against budget cuts at Garfield High, followed by the successful MAP boycott that galvanized our whole community, and really demonstrated to students and teachers the power of standing up. I think what I’m most proud of is that we’re actually showing what the alternative to rote memorization and standardized curriculum looks like. — Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the co-advisor of the Black Student Union at Seattle’s Garfield High School. He is the editor of More than a Score: the New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing. His website is: http://www.IAmAnEducator.com Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Monday after school, members of the Garfield High School Black Student Union (BSU) gathered in my classroom, along with my co-advisor of the student organization, as we braced for the grand jury decision in Ferguson regarding officer Darren Wilson’s killing of unarmed Black teenager, Michael Brown.
None of these students were there to find out what the fate of Officer Wilson would be; they told me they knew Wilson would not be made to face a trial because the institutions of our society do not respect the lives of Black youth. They gathered instead to hold each other up when the inevitable news dropped, and to reaffirm that Black lives matter, no matter what the prestigious and powerful believe.
As the time dragged on, we found out that the grand jury decision would not be made public until later that night. And as we packed our belongings to leave and wished each other well, one BSU member, clearly in deep turmoil, said, “Why are they doing this to me?” His question caught me off guard and I could feel my emotions swelling. Given the look of anguish on his face, should I focus on trying to help him not be consumed with worry as he leaves the embrace of his classmates? Should I quote to him a sentiment from Martin Luther King?: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Or should I begin to recount the history of racism in this country, long used to amass wealth and power, and quote to him Frederick Douglass?: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” I was ashamed I wasn’t ready at that moment with the right words and my own tumultuous feelings about the impending announcement kept me from producing a coherent response.
I did finally manage to inquire, “What do you mean?” He explained that he had a college application due the next day, but that there was no way he could concentrate on finishing the paperwork when the news was finally released that there would be no justice for Michael Brown. An effort was made in the group to comfort him and help him understand that it was important for him to also focus on his future. But he expressed he just had to join the demonstrations that night because if it was legal to kill Black youth, then what kind of future did he really have? The BSU parted ways and planned to rejoin the next day at lunch to discuss the next steps in the struggle for justice for Michael Brown.
That evening I watched the TV in unsurprised pain as St. Louis County prosecutor—apparently turned defense attorney—Robert McCulloch announced that Darren Wilson had a license to kill Black people. There was no need for the hassle of a trial. My chest heaved as I heard him explain why Black lives don’t matter, but I tried to hide my reaction from my sons so I wouldn’t have to explain to them the vulgarity of our society. My mind turned to my BSU student—was he writing his personal essay now, or finding out who he was and what he believed as he rallied for justice in the streets?
The next morning, I joined hundreds of people in search of solace and solidarity at the local NAACP rally, which gathered just a few blocks from my school. In my remarks to the crowd, I asserted that while the media likes to talk about the “unrest” sweeping the country, the real unrest is the endless sleepless nights for Michael Brown’s parents. I asserted that what is sweeping the nation—something the media cannot acknowledge without legitimizing challenges to their own supremacy—is a politicized populace of Black people, people of color, and their allies, with a goal of uprooting institutional racism.
After speaking, I jumped in my car to make it back to school before the lunch period was over. Driving back, I was met with an amazing surprise: that very populace was blocking my way to school! I had to move over to the right because an outpouring of some 1,000 students had left Garfield High School in solidarity with Mike Brown and had taken to the streets chanting, “Hands up, don’t Shoot!” As I would soon learn, walkouts occurred across the city, including 300 who walked out of Roosevelt High School, 130 from West Seattle High School, 50 from Rainier Beach High School, dozens from Nova High School, and over a dozen from Southlake High School. In leaving the schoolhouse, these students were transformed into the teachers of an entire region as they captured headlines in the local media and eloquently explained why they had disrupted the day to challenge racism. In my years of teaching, I have never worked with a more aware and passionate group of young people—educated not by me, but by Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Darius Simmons, Renisha McBride, Tamir Rice, and so many other black youths whose lives were taken by racial terror.
These students were surely animated by the injustice in Ferguson, but as they expressed, they have no need to travel across the country to confront the ferocity of racism. The Seattle Public Schools are under investigation by the federal Department of Education for suspension rates for black students four times higher than white students for the same infractions. The Seattle Police Department came under investigation by the federal Department of Justice for excessive use of force, especially against people of color, and is now under a court-monitored consent decree. A recent Seattle Times article shows, “while Seattle’s median household income soared to an all-time high of $70,200 last year, wages for blacks nose-dived to $25,700 — a 13.5 percent drop from 2012.”
A new generation of young activists in cities across the nation are confronting the contradiction of living in the “the land of the free” yet having to face militarized police when they assert the basic premise that “Black lives matter.” I hope my student finished his college paperwork (I’ll ask him about it when I see him after the break) and is accepted into college. But he and his classmates have goals beyond the individualist “career and college ready” objective prescribed by self-styled education reformers. These students have learned a lesson that can’t be taught by institutions of higher learning: Only collective action has the ability to grant the power of sight to a society unable to see you as a human being.
Jesse Hagopian teaches history and co-advises the Black Student Union at Garfield High School. He edited the book, “More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing,” which includes a foreword by Diane Ravitch, an introduction by Alfie Kohn, and an afterward by Wayne Au (Haymarket, December). A Twitter chat for “More Than a Score” will be held Monday, December 1, at 8:30pm Eastern. The Seattle book launch for “More Than a Score” will be held at Elliot Bay Books on December 2, 7:00pm.
Seattle’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.
At 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
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.
The Garfield High School Assessment Committee VS the Testocracy: We know how to run the schools better than billionaires
On Thursday of last week I attended a meeting of the Garfield High School Assessment Committee.
A report on one of many after school meetings may seem mundane. A committee of educators tasked with discussing assessment might appear innocuous. Yet that gathering of fifteen or so educators sharing their experience, expertise, and asking questions about alternatives to standardized testing was nothing short of sedition against a Testocracy that has attempted to silence teachers as it implements corporate education reform.
This team of dedicated educators forming the Garfield High School Assessment Committee was born out of the MAP test boycott last school year, which resulted in the Seattle School District backing away from its threat of suspending the boycotting teachers and ultimately—a year ago this month—forced the district to make the test optional at the high school level. From the very beginning of the MAP boycott, teachers at Garfield High School asserted that our strike against the test had nothing to do with shirking accountability to our students’ learning. We said that assessments are essential to teachers to help us understand where the student is in their zone of proximal development in order to scaffold their learning to advance their understanding of a given concept. And many of us simultaneously asserted that standardized testing, and the MAP test in particular, is a clumsy form of assessment that often hides more than it reveals about student knowledge–particularly the thought process and how a student arrived at particular answer. Worse, these tests primarily assess students’ ability to eliminate wrong answer choices and are too puny an instrument to measure collaboration, passion, imagination and a myriad of other qualities that are vital to the development of the whole child.
The Assessment Committee began the meeting by asking teachers why they were at the meeting and what types of assessments they were interested in learning about. As the list grew on the white board, so too did my confidence that collaboration of educators could enhance the education of our students–and that our collective action to assert the power of authentic assessment could serve as a beacon to educators around the country looking to reclaim classrooms from a Testocracy intent on grafting a business model onto education that reduces the intellectual process of teaching and learning a single score. Some of these teachers’ ideas included:
- Project-based learning coupled with performance-based assessment
- Interdisciplinary studies along with portfolios
- Student generated rubrics to assess their own work
- Students taking group assessments
- Teachers working collectively to assess student work
As my colleague Rachel Eells told the Times, “The MAP protest was really just the start of a deeper dialogue about how to we assess students in a meaningful way and how we use assessments to meaningfully inform instruction.” Garfield’s Assessment Committee has been meeting regularly all year and recently reported back to the staff at Garfield High School about a partnership our school has formed with a network of schools called the New York Performance Standards Consortium that has a waiver from the New York Regents exams and instead utilizes a sophisticated method of Performance Based Assessment. The Seattle Times recently ran an article about Garfield High School’s partnership with the New York Performance Standards Consortium,”New way to test? Garfield teachers explore New York model.”
I first became aware of the Consortium schools while attending a conference of the Advancement Project in Washington, D.C. last year. I had the pleasure of attending a panel with two teachers and a student who explained the power of their approach to performance based assessments that allowed students to do research over time, develop a thesis, and present their findings to a panel comprised of teachers, administrators, parents and community members. The student spoke movingly to how this approach to evaluation helped rescue the importance of school for him, and the teachers revealed that the Consortium Schools have higher graduation rates as compared with other demographically similar public schools in New York. After the presentation, I was delighted to meet the student and teachers, and they expressed their support for the MAP test boycott. Avram Barlowe, one of the founding teachers of the Consortium Schools asked me if Garfield teachers would be interested in attending workshops at the New York Performance Standards Consortium.
Avram then put me in touch with Phyllis Tashlik, one of the directors of the program, and over the course of the year our principal and a few of our teachers have made multiple trips to the Consortium Schools and have brought back with them invaluable insights into the learning process and assessment methods. This is what real education reform looks like: educators collaborating to share best practices to retake their profession from billionaires and their flunkies who know little about the craft of teaching.