Saturday, November 23, 2013

Wisconsin Grinches Attack Teachers

Wisconsin Republicans are outgrinching Dr. Seuss’s Grinch.

Like the Grinch who swooped into Whoville to steal all the Christmas gifts, the Wisconsin Grinches will invade villages and hamlets through out the state to steal the right to organize unions during this holiday season.

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court vacated a contempt of court ruling by a lower court. The result: for the first three weeks of December – perhaps starting as soon as the day after Thanksgiving – tens of thousands of teachers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, janitors and other public sector workers will be forced to “recertify” their unions.

The Republicans wrote the recertification requirements to make it as hard as possible to win – unions need support from 51% of all workers eligible to be in the union, not just those who vote.

“Only in Walker's Wisconsin can a union get 329 ‘yes’ votes and 14 ‘no’ votes and lose a certification election,” a veteran Wisconsin labor leader commented on a recent recertification election of an AFSCME education local.

A History of Attacks
The Republican’s attack on public sector unions in the past few years has followed a game plan similar to that of Seuss’s Grinch who left “nothing but hooks and some wire” and only a “crumb that was even too small for a mouse.”

It wasn’t enough for Gov. Scott Walker and the Koch brothers-financed legislative henchmen to outlaw Fairshare and payroll dues deduction.

It wasn’t enough that they eviscerated collective bargaining rights for any and all public sector unions (except for the few unions that endorsed Walker for governor in 2010).

Nor did the largest cuts to public education in Wisconsin history satiate the thirst of those who would replace democratically controlled public institutions with private marketplace options. This summer the legislature expanded a failed private school voucher program from Milwaukee to all corners of the state.

The Republican’s claim that the purpose of the voucher expansion was to provide a “choice” to beleaguered public school students proved to be a sham when the DPI released enrollment data. Under the new statewide program nearly 75% of the voucher recipients did not transfer from public schools, but were already enrolled in the religious schools. The essence of the program: transfer of public funds to private schools.

Universal Human Right
On November 21 the Supreme Court resuscitated one of the most toxic provisions of Act 10 – the requirement that public sectors unions annually “recertify.”

The recertification provision is unprecedented in US labor relations and is a direct attack on the universal human right to organize unions. The United Nations’ 1948 Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23) states, “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

While numerous provisions of Act 10 have seriously compromised the people’s “right to form and join trade unions,” this December public sector workers will reminded of the odious aspects and consequences of the recertification provision:
  • A recertification election every year.
  • A 51% “yes” vote of all those eligible to be in the union, not just of those who vote. (A standard that, if applied to elected officials such as Governor Walker, would mean they are not actually elected.)
  • 51%, instead of 50% + 1, the universally established definition of a “majority”
  • That the unions pay for the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission to conduct the vote. For the MTEA that’s an annual cost of several thousand dollars.
  • The entire process diverts time and resources of teachers and their unions away from important matters such improving teaching and learning and advocating for their students.

Fight Back Against the Grinches
Despite these toxic requirements, I’m confident that majority of union locals across the state will “recertify” this holiday season.

When Dr. Seuss’s Grinch came to Whoville and stole all the Christmas presents, the Whos did not despair. They joined together in song and demonstrated the true meaning of Christmas.
This holiday season when the Grinches of Wisconsin descend on towns and cities across the state to steal the “right to form and join unions” I believe teachers, educational assistants, secretaries and janitors will join together in songs such as “Solidarity Forever” and vote “yes” for their union.

We will stand up to the Grinches of Wisconsin. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

WI Supreme Court to hear Act 10 but excludes six unions from oral arguments

On Monday the Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Act 10, the anti-collective bargaining law that led to the largest worker uprising in Wisconsin history in the spring of 2011.  

Late Friday night the Court issued an order barring six unions from participating in the oral arguments. Those unions had successfully filed suit asking Dane County Circuit Court Judge Colas to find the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) in contempt of court, thus prohibiting the WERC from conducting “recertification” elections that were to have started November 1. The mandatory annual recertification elections were one of several anti-worker components of Act 10.

The three dissenting judges in Friday night’s 4-3 ruling called the denial, “unfair and illogical.”

They noted that both the defendants and the plaintiffs suggested that the six unions and the WERC be allocated 10 or 15 minutes each to make their arguments regarding the contempt of court finding which the Supreme Court is going to be ruling on as part of the overall case.

The majority denied that request.

The dissenting judges wrote, “the court’s order today undermines this court’s role as a neutral, fair, impartial and non-partisan arbiter by excluding (without adequate explanation) the victorious-at-the-circuit-court unions from arguing at the supreme court about the contempt motion that the unions filed and won at the circuit court.”

The six unions that successfully sought and won the contempt of court finding include WEAC (which includes the MTEA); AFT-Wisconsin; SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin; Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Care Professionals; Kenosha Education Association; and District Council 40, AFSCME.

The original case, Madison Teachers, Inc. v. Scott Walker, will be argued by Madison attorney Lester Pines representing the MTI. The other plaintiff is Public Employees Local 61, AFL-CI0.

The only other time Act 10 came to the Wisconsin Supreme Court was on a procedural matter regarding whether the way the Republicans passed the law violated the states open meetings law.  During deliberation there was a physical confrontation between two justices. Conservative Justice David Prosser put his hands around the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Crucial Milwaukee Vote on Public School Plan

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Milwaukee Common Council is expected to vote on the Milwaukee School Board’s proposal to sell the Malcolm X school property to a community-based developer so that the broader community can be served and so that a new, high-quality public middle school can be established.

The back story is complicated, but boils down to a conflict between pro-public education forces led by the democratically elected school board versus corporate-driven, pro-market education forces led by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

It appears that the majority of the Common Council members will support the MPS proposal, but nothing is certain. Public school supporters should contact their alderperson on Monday to insist they support the public schools.

The MMAC has a long history of supporting voucher schools and privately-run charter schools. Their financial and political support has spanned decades, and included multiple fights at state and local levels.  The MMAC initiatives have garnered support from conservative forces like the Koch brothers, the Bradley Foundation and Walton Foundation.

Most recently the MMAC has promoted a “recovery” or “achievement” zone in Milwaukee, patterned after similar corporate-backed school privatization schemes in New Orleans and Memphis.

Tuesday’s Vote
When St. Marcus School, a publicly-financed voucher school, attempted to pressure the Milwaukee School Board to sell it the Malcolm X school site, the school board refused. The MMAC stepped in and had their staff draft legislation that Senator Alberta Darling introduced into the state legislature. That legislation, SB 318 would force MPS to sell “surplus” property to private school operators.

Because all school property is technically owned by the city of Milwaukee, property transactions of the school board have to get final approval by the city government. The MMAC and the privatization advocates have been working to convince alderpeople to turn down the school board plan.

Some council members have raised concerns about St. Marcus after they realized that the church is part of the conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The church and synod have a pro-creationist, anti-Catholic, homophobic theology. It does not allow women to vote for the Church Council, which in turn appoints the School Council, the head of which has to be a male.

MPS on the other hand requires school councils to be elected by parents (male AND female). The Milwaukee School Board’s intention is to have the Malcolm X site be a multi-use venue with low-income housing, a cultural and artists center and a public middle school.  

The City Council has had a weak record when it comes to protecting public schools. Milwaukee was the first city in the nation to get authority to charter their own privately-run charter schools. The city has done so with little public oversight or accountability. There is little understanding of the negative impact such schools have had on MPS. A recent report showed that the Milwaukee Public Schools have three times as many English Language Learners and twice as many special education students as the privately-run charter schools chartered by the City of Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Two years ago, the MMAC and the pro-privatization group, Schools that Can-Milwaukee, pressured the Common Council and Mayor to approve an  “umbrella charter” allowing for eight Rocketship schools in the city.  The first Rocketship School opened this past August on the near south side. Opposition by community groups were partially responsible for Rocketship not reaching its goals.

Tim Sheehy, President of the MMAC is also President of the Rocketship Milwaukee Board of Directors. The MMAC, Rocketship, Wisconsin School Choice, and St. Marcus School all testified in Madison in favor of Senator Darling’s “land grab” bill.

Community opposition to the bill and to the attempt by St. Marcus to take over the Malcolm X site has been strong. Last month the Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover held a massive press conference in front of North Division High School. News reports and video demonstrate the depth of opposition. A large "Public Education is a Civil Right" march in September targetted MMAC's takeover plan. 

The Milwaukee Common Council has an opportunity this Tuesday to show the people of Milwaukee that they support the Milwaukee Public Schools. They can do so by voting to support the plan proposed by the democratically elected school board.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rethinking Columbus in New Zealand

People in New Zealand know the truth about Columbus. At least Radio New Zealand broadcaster Wayne Brittenden does. Check out the letter he wrote/read to Columbus.

I was then interviewed. Perhaps the most interesting thing I talked about was how I have my fifth graders put Columbus et al on trial for genocide each fall. It's a powerful activity because it requires group research and understanding, engaging critical thinking, public speaking, multicultural-anti-racism and powerful content (the truth about the European invasion).

To say nothing of popping the Columbus Discovery myth. 

Check out the 18 minute interview here.

Check out the book Rethinking Columbus here. A multicultural bestseller-- Banned in Tucson

Let's continue to Rethink Columbus and all types of colonial oppression and relationships.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Parent Opposition to Early Childhood Testing on the Increase

A growing number of parents are expressing concern over the increasing number of standardized tests and screeners being imposed on young students in Milwaukee.

This year both the state and the school district have increased testing for four-, five-, six- and seven-year-old students in the district.

More and more parents are saying, “Enough!”

Take Jasmine Alinder. She came face to face with the problems of testing young children when she volunteered to help her daughter’s kindergarten teacher administer the district mandated MAP tests. The Measure of Academic Progress tests are computerized assessments in both math and literacy. They are administered three times a year in MPS for grades K5 through 12th grade.

Jasmine’s short essay, “A Parent’s View: MAP Testing of FiveYear-old Kindergarteners,” went viral on Facebook over the weekend. She writes:

“I know there is a lot of discussion and controversy over what is referred to as ‘high-stakes testing,’ but in all honesty I haven’t paid too much attention to it.  What I saw today, however, was eye opening and leads me to believe that standardized computer tests have no place in our early elementary school classrooms. MAP testing for five year olds does not test math and reading competency. At best it tests patience and computer literacy, which is more likely an indication of computer access at home.  At worst it creates a culture of stress and frustration around standardized testing that may scar some of these children for the rest of their school careers.”
Jasmine and others are not just writing about the problem. They are beginning to organize. Inappropriate use of standardized testing in early grades will be a topic at the upcoming meeting of Parents for Public Schools-Milwaukee. Jasmine is president of the Milwaukee chapter of PPS. The meeting will be this Sunday, October 6 from 3-4 p.m. at the downtown public library in meeting room one. It is open to all parents who support public schools. For more details go to Parents for Public Schools-MKE’s Facebook site.

The MTEA is asking parents and teachers in Milwaukee to fill out a survey to get more information about attitudes towards the test. The survey can be taken by clicking here or going to

Last year, teachers, students and parents successfully stood up in Seattle against the inappropriate use of MAP testing. It appears more and more people are raising similar concerns across the country.


For a teacher’s look at the problems of computerized MAP testing in early grades, see Melissa Tempel’s Huffington Post commentary, “Testing Our Limits: The Trouble with Computerized Exams.”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Should Public Taxpayers Pay for Discrimination?

Why MPS should not sell Malcolm X to St. Marcus

The St. Marcus School has been in the news for trying to bully the Milwaukee School Board into selling a large public school to St. Marcus, a private voucher school.

Amid the controversy, no reporter has asked whether the public should be forced to financially support homophobic, anti-woman beliefs that are at odds with democratic rights and public policy. 

Unlike in MPS schools, for instance, the school council at St. Marcus is appointed, not elected. More important, only men are allowed to appoint the St. Marcus council members.

The St. Marcus Evangelical Lutheran Church, which oversees the St. Marcus School, is part of the conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. As a religious-based school, St. Marcus and its teachers are expected to defend and promote the synod’s beliefs.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) was founded in Milwaukee in 1850. Its core beliefs include:

  • Homosexuality is a sin.
  • Living together outside of marriage is a sin.
  • Women are not to hold positions of authority over men.  (The synod’s web page notes: “God gave to the man the unique calling of being a loving head and to his wife the unique calling of being a loving helper to him.” 
  • A literal interpretation of the Bible.
  • The theory of evolution is wrong. (In explaining the discrepancy between the scientific view that the earth is 4-5 billion years old and the Biblical timeline of about 6,000 years, the synod’s website notes:The short answer is that the earth was created with the appearance of age. On the first day everything looked older than it was.”)
  • The Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church is the anti-Christ. (A “Doctrinal Statement on the Anti-Christ” from the WELS website ends with the statement: Scripture teaches that the Antichrist would be revealed and gives the marks by which the Antichrist is to be recognized (2 Th 2:6,8), and since this prophecy has been clearly fulfilled in the history and development of the Roman Papacy, it is Scripture which reveals that the Papacy is the Antichrist.”

I was raised Lutheran (in a more liberal synod) and I believe in religious freedom. One of the ways the United States has lessened problems of religious intolerance is by separating public money from the promotion of specific religious views that may deeply offend and discriminate against people of other belief systems. 

The pastors of the St. Marcus church should be free to promote their religious views. But public policy is governed by principles of democracy. Should the taxpayers of Wisconsin be expected to fund the WELS’ homophobic, anti-woman beliefs and its teaching of pseudo-science such as creationism?

Since 1998, the St. Marcus School has received almost $22 million in public tax dollars via the voucher program, according to figures from the state Department of Public Instruction.

In the 2012-13 school year, 89 percent of the students at St. Marcus received a publicly funded voucher, according to the Public Policy Forum. This, in turn, calls into question why religious voucher schools, some of whom have all their students receiving publicly funded vouchers, are defined as a “private” school.

St. Marcus School wants to use the former Malcolm X school to enroll an additional 900 students — which could bring in an additional $6 million a year in public funding.

It’s a travesty that the Milwaukee mainstream media has never seriously investigated the curriculum at private voucher schools, and whether the schools may be promoting beliefs that run counter to state anti-discrimination laws that all public schools must follow.

As for the St. Marcus School, there has been no public discussion of how the school essentially operates as a white-led, patriarchal organization serving predominantly African American students, and without even a minimal nod toward democratic principles. (The colonial, missionary aspects of the St. Marcus School operations are disturbing, but that’s for another column.)

The St. Marcus School has launched a public campaign, demanding that MPS sell to St. Marcus the former Malcolm X middle school, which encompasses an entire city block. The controversy was discussed at a public hearing before the MPS school board on Thursday, Sept. 12. Several hundred people showed up.

The School Board already has plans for the former Malcolm X building. It has been working for several years with community leaders, business people and government officials from the Bronzeville neighborhood to create a multi-use venue with low-income housing, a cultural and artist center and a school.

At the public hearing, one of the issues raised was that public schools are inherently more democratic, transparent and accountable than private schools.

Every MPS school, for instance, is required to have a democratically elected school council. The majority of the council is comprised of students’ parents or caregivers, and elected by the school’s parents/caregivers. The council also includes the principal and teacher representatives elected by their peers, and at least one community member elected by fellow council members. At high schools, students have a democratically elected representative. Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion is illegal.

St. Marcus operates differently. According to the St. Marcus School charter, the school council is appointed by the church board of directors. According to the St. Marcus church’s bylaws, the church’s board of directors must be men.

Under church bylaws, directors must be “a voting member of the congregation.” If you read the fine print, you will find that only men can be voting members. As the St. Marcus church constitution notes, “Voting members are male [emphasis added] communicant members at least 18 years of age. The voting members shall comprise the voters’ assembly.”

The St. Marcus church bylaws further stipulate that “directors shall be a voting member of the congregation.”

So, according to church regulations, only male members of the St. Marcus church elect the church board of directors. These directors, in turn, must be men. And they, in turn, appoint the St. Marcus School Council. The chair of the council must be a “voting member,”  — i.e., a male. Other school council members must be church members, and can presumably include women.

Yes, it gets a bit complicated — bylaws tend to be written that way. But the bottom line is clear: men make the decisions and women are not to have authority over men. It’s hard in this day and age to find a clearer example of patriarchy.

In a democracy, why should the public be expected to fund institutions that, as a matter of principle, deny women the right to vote?

Here’s another way of looking at it. What would be the public response — and the response of Milwaukee’s political and business leaders — if the state of Wisconsin gave $21 million to an institution that allows African American members, but prohibits African Americans from voting for the organization’s leadership?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

M.L.King: “The greatest weapon is the mass demonstration.”

As people gather in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, demands of jobs, freedom and an end to racial segregation are as important today as they were a half century ago.

“We are on the threshold of significant breakthrough, and the greatest weapon is the mass demonstration,” King told a close friend in a telephone call wiretapped by the F.B.I. according to the NY Times review of UW Madison historian William P. Jones’ new book, The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights.

A recent interview of Jones and Gary Younge, author of The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream on Democracy Now! provides valuable background on the March that is left out of most newspaper stories and school history books. Teachers will find the interview (like much on Democracy Now’s daily news programming) a great resource for their classrooms.

The 1963 March on Washington was the largest mass civil rights protest in the nation’s history. When marchers returned to their hometowns, they carried the energy into local protests demanding an end to segregation in public facilities and in favor of full voting rights.

In Milwaukee, those returning from the March on Washington infused their energy into the growing movements against school and housing segregation and policy brutality. As Barbara Miner relates in her book, Lessons from the Heartland, during King’s visit to Milwaukee a few months after the March on Washington,

he publicly addressed the issue of Milwaukee’s schools and agreed that residential segregation should not be used “as an excuse for perpetuating de facto segregation” in schools. In a prescient comment, he noted that “honesty impels me to admit that the school problem cannot be solve permanently until the housing problem is solved.”

The Milwaukee movement took to the streets. A campaign by MUSIC – Milwaukee United School Integration Committee – over the next two years included more than ten demonstrations against intact bussing and more than “sixty people arrested as they formed human chains, sat, knelt or stood in front of schools buses, went limp, and were tossed into patrol wagons, all to the tune of freedom songs.”

Two hundred consecutive days of open housing marches followed in 1967 and 1968, led by Father Groppi, Alderwoman Vel Phillips, and the NAACP Youth Council as they march across the 16th Street viaduct, at times being met by thousands of hostile and violent whites.

Mass demonstrations do not automatically lead to success. But they provide a time-honored way to promote activism and to invigorate broader social movements. For instance, it took two years after the March on Washington before the 1965 Voting Rights passed — and then years more of organizing to secure the right for all people.

A generation later, conservative forces are challenging voting rights through measures such as voter ID and an end to same day registration. It is an important lesson that the struggle for fundamental rights is ever-unfolding.

The ebb and flow of history was also evident in the populist uprising in Wisconsin in the spring of 2011. While the mass protests were unsuccessful in stopping Act 10, they were an unprecedented showing of grassroots political power; tens of thousands of citizens increased their understanding of how corporate power can corrode democracy. The current chapter in Wisconsin history is far from over.

Mass demonstrations, by their very nature, rely on grassroots support. To be successful, they must be grounded in political organizing that respects the essential role of everyday people in building a better world.

In September, Milwaukee area people will have the opportunity participate in two marches and rallies that continue M. L. King’s tradition of popular protest.

Milwaukeeans will take to the streets on Labor Day, September 2. A coalition of labor unions, including the MTEA, has organized two marches (one from the north side and one from the south side) to meet with a picnic and family celebration at Zeidler Park. For details click here.

Then on September 21 Milwaukeeans will again march across the 16th Street Viaduct in under the slogan “Public Education is a Civil Right.” A coalition of over 50 organizations and community leaders, including the MTEA, is sponsoring the march drawing attention to the need for full support of public schools as the foundation of multiracial democracy. For a flyer click here and for list of sponsors, details and to sign up go to the Facebook page PublicEducationIsACivilRight.

Dr. King’s statement about mass demonstrations being a great weapon is as true today as when the F.B.I. wiretapped him saying it a half century ago.

Let’s continue King’s tradition in Washington D.C. on August 24, and then in Milwaukee on Labor Day, September 2 and on September 21 at the Public Education is a Civil Right March and Rally.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why the WI State Legislature Should Not Give $1,000,000 to TFA

Hidden in the cracks of the Wisconsin state budget that the Republican-dominated legislature is forcing on the people of Wisconsin, is a provision to give one million dollars to Teach for America.

Teach for America needs another million dollars about as much as the Koch brothers need another bought-and-paid-for Wisconsin legislator.

Wisconsin taxpayers should not have to subsidize a national organization with net assets of over $350 million. The organization is essentially a job-training/ resume-building program for privileged college students mostly from out of state – most of whom are not likely to make a long-term commitment to Wisconsin public schools.

Why, when Wisconsin's unemployment remains so high, is the state paying for TFA recruits, the majority of whom are not from the state?

Why should Wisconsin taxpayers give a million dollars to TFA when TFA’s most recent public financial statement show that in FY 2011 it had revenues of over $270.5 million and total expenses of $218.7 million – a net gain of $51.8 million?

As we attempt to recover from the largest budget cuts to Wisconsin public schools since the Great Depression, I am sure school boards across the state could think of a better use of $1 million dollars then subsidizing a national organization with more than ample corporate backers.

School districts actually pay TFA for their services – two thousand-dollar finder fees for each TFA recruit are common – and all the salaries and benefits of TFA members who teach in the public schools are paid by the local school district.

Why does TFA need additional money? Wasn't the $50 million grant from the US Office of Education enough? Perhaps it’s to pay their many administrative staff six-figure salaries.

An additional pro-TFA provision in the Wisconsin State Budget (one of the many non-fiscal provisions) privileges TFA members as they race to leave teaching and move into administration. The provision allows TFA members to count their two years of TFA teaching as part of the three-year teaching requirement needed to be a school administrator, ignoring the long-standing practice of not counting internships and student teaching as part of the required three years. Moving to the TFA model is a dis-service to students and an insult to school administrators who have graduated from a college of education, have gone through student teaching, and then have moved on to significant teaching and learning in the classroom.

If the Governor Walker has the interests of the taxpayers and children of Wisconsin at heart, he would veto this portion of the budget, as did Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton in May.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Special ed vouchers won't end discrimination

As debate rages throughout Wisconsin on Gov. Walker's proposals to expand private school vouchers, the folks at the ACLU, WI ACLU and Disability Rights Wisconsin continue to stand up for children with disabilities.

Lawyers from those organizations had an opinion piece in the May 9, 2013 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that gave specific examples of discrimination the ACLU uncovered in their investigation of discrimination in the private school voucher program of Wisconsin. They summarized the recent letter from the U.S. Department of Justice to Wisconsin's Department of Education that it must ensure that students with disabilities "do not encounter discrimination (in the voucher program) on the basis of their disabilities."

After a careful analysis the authors of today's opinion piece conclude: "It is time to suspend any effort to expand vouchers -- unless and until the state creates a system that stops discriminating against children with disabilities."

There are other reasons, as well, to stop the expansion of vouchers -- financial, pedagogical and vouchers' negative impact on public education, a cornerstone of any democratic society.

The authors of today's opinion piece clearly demonstrate why the rights of students with disabilities are a powerful reason to stop voucher expansion.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

For more information on the campaign to stop special ed vouchers click here.
For more info on the campaign to stop vouchers generally in Wisconsin click here.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lessons from the Atlanta testing scandal

Friday’s indictment of 35 Atlanta educators for a massive testing scandal should give pause to all people who care about the future of education and our children.

The indictment by a Fulton County grand jury charged the former superintendent Beverly Hall with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. She could face up to 45 years in prison.

The underlying story behind this scandal is that when school “success” is reduced to data-driven standardized test scores, the consequences are devastating. Cheating is only the tip of the iceberg.  An even more troublesome consequence is that the very definition of education is hijacked. Learning is narrowed, dulled, and reduced to measurable data bits. Teaching as a craft and profession is redefined as script-following and data collecting.

During Superintendent Hall’s decade of being superintendent in Atlanta test scores rose and she became the darling of Arne Duncan who hosted her at the White House. Duncan’s policies have coerced state legislatures to increase standardized testing and to tie educator evaluation to test scores.

According to Friday’s indictment, “Principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated.”

One teacher, who turned a state’s witness, told officials that teachers were under constant pressure from principals who feared they would be fired if they did not meet the testing targets.

The New York Times reported that Hall “held yearly rallies at the Georgia Dome, rewarding principals and teachers from schools with high test scores by seating them up front, close to her, while low scorers were shunted aside to the bleachers.”

The New York Times also noted “Cheating has grown at school districts around the country as standardized testing has become a primary means of evaluating teachers, principals, and schools.”

Time to Ask Questions
While some policy makers and test-obsessed school “reformers” may dismiss such cheating scandals as exceptions, these scandals should serve as a wake up call to anyone concerned about the future of our schools. 

We need to ask some basic questions.

  • Should our children be subjected to endless test prep and hours of narrow skill-driven curriculum? Or instead should they get a well rounded education like what President Obama’s daughters receive at the Sidwell Friends School or what Arne Duncan received as a child at the Chicago Lab School?
  • Should students of color and those from economically disenfranchised families be subjected to narrow, test-driven schooling while children in the most affluent communities receive well-resourced, well-rounded education with much less testing?
  • Why should transnational textbook/testing companies and corporate-backed philanthropic organizations determine the curriculum for our schools?

Time to Act
Increasingly parents, teachers, principals, and even school superintendents are speaking out on the over use and negative impact of mass standardized testing.

The courageous teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School not only started a boycott of the MAP tests, but also allied parents and community groups to their cause.

Principals in New York spoke out against the use of test scores to evaluate staff and schools.

Parent organizations across the nation have stepped up, recognizing that using tests to declare public schools as “failing” is part of a larger plan to close public schools and replace them with privately-run charter schools.

Let’s use scandals like that in Atlanta to continue to push to change the national narrative on school accountability. Let’s unite with progressive school board members to hold community reviews on impact of testing in our schools and to examine reasonable alternatives.

Let’s do what’s right for our students.
Some good resources on standardized testing:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Support the Seattle MAP Test Boycott

The teachers of Garfield High School in Seattle have said “enough is enough.”

They are standing up to this nation’s obsession with standardized testing.  

They are boycotting the MAP tests for being inaccurate, hurtful, and inequitable.

Most fundamentally, they are standing up for their students who deserve a rigorous, engaging education – not a curriculum dumbed-down by testing, test prep, and an addiction to data bits.

As a teacher, I am not opposed to being held accountable or assessing my students to gauge their understanding and growth as learners. I also believe that the broader community has the right to know how publicly-funded schools are doing.

But what I oppose – as do many other teachers – is this obsession with standardized testing that narrows the curriculum, consumes weeks of valuable class time, distorts teaching away from meaningful projects and learning, and in essence destroys the craft of teaching.

On Monday, the Seattle NAACP announced that it supported the boycott. According to news reports the NAACP said that the test does not reflect what students have learned in the classroom and could produce inequitable results when used to select students for Advanced Placement classes. They also said that the testing negatively impacts low-income students of color who can’t afford computers and Internet access at home.

The Seattle Education Association issued a solidarity statement with the Garfield teachers saying that for several years they had raised concerns about the MAP tests including:
  • The test does not align with state standards.
  • The test does not align with district curriculum.
  • The test takes valuable time away from student learning.
  • Many students do not take the test seriously.
  • The testing timeframe takes valuable time away from students in the school being able to access computer labs and libraries for other projects.
  • The data obtained is of minimal use to teachers in planning lessons and meeting individual student needs.
The boycotting teachers have listed fifteen reasons why the MAP test should be shelved.

 MAP (Measure of Academic Achievement) tests are used in districts throughout the nation, including the Milwaukee Public Schools. The tests are a source of deep concern to many teachers and parents. Why should four, five, and six year olds take computerized tests? Why aren’t the state standardized tests sufficient accountability measures? Why should school libraries and computer rooms be closed for weeks on end for testing three or four times a year?

On Tuesday, the Chicago Teachers Union issued a white paper, Debunkingthe Myths of Standardized Testing. Their paper can serve as a guide for parents, educators, and students throughout the country.

The Seattle teachers won’t be able to stop this testing craze alone. But their actions may act as a spark like the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins that inspired similar protests and contributed to the larger Civil Rights Movement.  

It’s now time for teacher unions, parent organizations, concerned citizens and pro-child policy makers to build a movement that will reign in the obsession with standardized testing and instead insist on accountability methods that encourage rigorous, engaging teaching that educates the whole child.

Our students deserve no less. 

- - - - - -

To see a copy of the student leaflet in support of the boycott, click here.

To sign a petition in support of the boycott, click here.

To get information about Rethinking Schools book, Pencils Down: Rethinking High Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schools, click here.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Keep the Public in Education

A recent public statement by eleven community leaders in Milwaukee, WI is an important step in defending public education and democracy in a city that has been the target of school privatization efforts for more than two decades. (I am proud to be one of the eleven signers.)

Issued a few days before a “whistle-stop event” in Milwaukee that is to “celebrate” National School Choice Week, the statement warns of the dangers of blurring the lines between public schools, private voucher schools and privately run charter schools by “repackag[ing] school privatization as a call for a ‘unified education agenda.’”

The statement suggests several principles that should guide public policy when using public funds for private voucher schools and privately run charter schools.  

It also calls for a moratorium in Milwaukee on new charter schools that are part of national franchises. “Our precious educational dollars should be kept in the community, not sent out of state,” reads the statement.

It calls for community-wide discussion and action and warns against top-down policies that are developed behind closed doors.

The statement summarizes, “For the last two decades, education reform in Milwaukee has been dominated by consumer-based, privatization initiatives. They have not worked.”

“We must improve our public schools. But we must also defend the constitutional right to a free, public education for all children. A truly public education means more than funneling tax dollars to private voucher schools and semi-private charter schools that operate outside of expected norms of public oversight and accountability — and that undermine the very survival of the Milwaukee Public Schools.”

To read the entire statement and list of signers, click here.