Lost Arts - The Teacher Project

So many people I know have a story about a teacher who changed their life.  For me it was Eileen Daniel Riddle and James Gilchrist.  On a Sunday afternoon in Agoura Hills, Calif. a group of us got together with these Read more

Diane Ravitch: Why all parents should opt their kids out of high-stakes standardized tests

Original article by Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post The Network for Public Education, a nonprofit education advocacy group co-founded by historian Diane Ravitch, is calling for a national “opt out” of high-stakes standardized testing, urging parents across the country to Read more

The Other PARCC

On a weekend in December, I took a borrowed camera and lights and headed to Montclair, New Jersey. All weekend long, one after another, public school parents and students tromped down the basement stairs in the home of a Read more

Public School Parents Call for Free and Open Dialogue on Standardized Testing NOW!

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Over 1,000 NYC parents, whose children attend schools in 31 of 32 city districts, write to the Mayor and Chancellor and are ignored; teachers & principals threatened with disciplinary action if they speak to parents about standardized tests administered in school.

The NYCDOE Gag Order On Educator-Parent Discussions on Testing from Shoot4Education on Vimeo.

PRESS CONTACTS: Megan Devir

347-306-4687, megandevir@yahoo.com

Janine Sopp
917-541-6062 janinesopp@gmail.com

On numerous occasions, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina has emphatically declared that the success of New York’s schools depends on engaging parents and families in every aspect of school life. Indeed, she purports that parent engagement is so crucial to her vision that it is one of four “pillars” upon which her chancellorship is based.

Yet, when, in a grassroots effort, more than 1,000 parents whose children attend 228 schools (in every borough and in 31 of the city’s 32 school districts) signed a letter (attached) asking for a meeting with the Mayor and Chancellor to discuss their concerns about the absence of free and open dialogue around high-stakes testing in city schools, their request for engagement yielded no response; the administration failed even to acknowledge receipt of the letter.

Now, in an indication of the NYCDOE’s true regard for parents and parent rights, a superintendent has been caught on tape telling families at a public forum that their children’s teachers and principals cannot share their honest and expert opinions of the state’s standardized testing program. The superintendent, District 15’s Anita Skop, claimed that such speech would be “political,” and therefore prohibited by the state since educators are public employees. Parents in the audience were in an uproar, claiming that testing should be an educational, not a political, matter and that a parent body wanting to hear educators speak freely about the value and validity of high-stakes testing was no different than wanting to hear educators speak about the value and validity of homework policies. Skop insisted educators shouldn’t talk, “I can tell you this is the policy in New York City.” While Skop spoke about city policy, the Brooklyn forum took place against a backdrop of major developments in educational policy elsewhere. ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), the successor to the No Child Left Behind legislation, was just signed into law in Washington and in New York, Governor Cuomo’s task force on the Common Core submitted its own suggestions regarding annual state testing.

Another forum panelist captured in the video, Network for Public Education Director Carol Burris, was until recently a principal on Long Island. Asked why she, like other educators from outside the city, did not feel too intimidated to speak out about their concerns with the tests, Burris responded, “My superintendent knew that I was vocal and my board of education knew that I was vocal, and they were courageous people.” Why, unlike elsewhere in the state, and contrary to the interests of children and parents, is NYCDOE deliberately choosing a restrictive and contorted interpretation of a state regulation, one originally meant to prevent campaigning?

“To form my own opinions about the state tests,” said Tim Dubnau, a District 15 parent who attended the panel, “I need to hear what my children’s principal and teachers think. They know my kids, and they have actual on-the-ground experience seeing how testing affects children and

what goes on in the classroom. When I heard the Superintendent frame teachers’ concerns about the harms inherent in high-stakes testing as political, it felt like she was saying that testing is really just about politics. I also wondered why the examples of educators being ‘political’ didn’t include teachers who pressure students to take the tests or principals who mete out punitive repercussions to opt outers. I’ve heard of those sorts of threats for years!”

Parent Kemala Karmen sees this as a failure of the NYCDOE to prioritize the interests of children. “If testing is just about politics, and teachers cannot share their professional judgment, why should parents support these tests? Tests should be educationally sound.” By silencing educators, the NYCDOE and NYSED are making a conscious choice to deny parents information. Instead of educating and protecting our children, they are allowing politicians to use students as political pawns. This conclusion is corroborated by the de Blasio/Farina DOE’s refusal to amend the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” to include the right of test refusal, even though the City Council voted unanimously in Spring 2015 to insert right to opt out language in the bill. District 15 parent Johanna Perez makes clear why this omission is so crucial. “My sister was the only one in her Bronx school who had even heard of opt out–and that was only because I told her about the movement to opt out in her niece’s D15 school. Many parents, especially those in communities of color, aren’t even aware that they have a right to refuse!”

When a superintendent of schools says that teachers, as representatives of the state, cannot talk about the educational value of the tests that they administer to children, we have to question who exactly is being political. When Chancellor Farina and Mayor de Blasio define a conversation between parents and teachers about an educational matter as political, parents feel disregarded, and children lose.

Parents from hundreds of schools await the overdue response of the Mayor and Chancellor to their letter, and to the establishment of free and open dialogue about the state tests. There should be no barrier placed between parents and educators. Educators should be free to express their concerns and parents should have access to information so that they have a solid basis on which to make the decision to opt in or opt out of the tests.

ATTACHMENTS: Video, Talking About Testing Forum; Parents’ Letter to the Mayor & Chancellor (includes list of schools attended by children of the parent signatories); Cover Letter to Parents’ Letter

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The Teachers Who Change Our Lives

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I graduated from high school as a failed student. When I describe the state of my education from that time I borrow a line from the Woody Allen film Love and Death because “I couldn’t write my name in the ground with a stick.” Now I could tell a story about all the teachers who let me down, which is something I hear all the time at hearings from people speaking up for high standards, common core and the test prep factories of charter schools. They talk about their resentment at arriving in college unprepared, with deficient skills and in need of remediation. But I’m not going to tell that story.

I grew up with a constellation of learning disabilities and was labeled an underachiever in the third grade. In reality, given my resistance, my inattentiveness, my issues with executive function which dog me to this day, I was unteachable. Many will say that’s an impossibility, but to this day, nothing has ever convinced me that I was present and able to be educated beyond what I was willing to take in. The expectations of school were all avoidance for me. I simply saw no value in it and I couldn’t marshal the personal resources to force myself to fit in.

One afternoon, in ninth grade, I was stranded at school because I missed the bus home, and I was waiting for a ride with a friend. He was on the stage crew for The Sound of Music, the spring musical that was being staged at school. He asked me to tag along and help him, so I did. I was small so I could hide under the stage of the outdoor amphitheater, and when the lights went down I’d race out to place props and move sets around. I had a lot of fun doing this, it was exciting, with the music, the singing and everyone taking it all very seriously. At the end of the night I was standing up on the stage waiting for my friend to drive me home when a teacher, Eileen Daniel Riddle walked up to me and asked what I was doing. I mumbled something about waiting for my ride, and she looked at me, then walked away. Moments later she came back with a broom and handing it to me, asked if I would sweep the stage.

She handed me a broom.

From that night on I worked on every play until I graduated. I rarely had time to hang out with my old friends who spent their time rearranging their body chemistry on a molecular level. I couldn’t get enough theater. I had never seen a professional production; I had no aspirations of being involved in theater. I just loved the connection, and belonging to something bigger than myself. I loved building sets, hanging lights, moving flats, and everything that had anything to do with putting on plays and musicals. Fortunately for me, I went to a school that could provide the experience of mounting theatrical productions four or five times a year. My life revolved around that schedule. Eileen was a tough taskmaster and the expectations were high, but she nurtured the desire in me and gave my life shape. That desire propelled me into college, because it was the only place where I could continue working in the community of theater. Once in college I learned to write because I needed the skills in order to develop a real grasp of how stories are told, how the design of a production is lifted from the pages of a script, and how to analyze the themes, the plot, the characters and demands needed to transform a play on paper into a production on a stage, or in a film.

I had a teacher in high school who handed me a broom and in doing so, inspired me to harness my intelligence to service my passion. She was a dedicated high school Theater Arts teacher, and she saved my life. This is what I take away from my failed educational experience, immense gratitude for a teacher who showed me something I’d never seen before, and it became the guiding force in my life.

We live in a time where the teaching profession is so maligned and education budgets have been stripped bare. The Arts have been eliminated in favor of a dirt dry, common core aligned test prep curriculum. So in order to remind parents about the need for solid creative programs in public education and in gratitude to teachers who give so much to our kids, in November I’m shooting a short documentary, interviewing former students and their mentor teachers about the ways in which teachers impact the lives of their students. I’m offering a group of adults the chance to thank the teacher who had such a powerful influence on the shape of their life, and share the story of how it unfolded. Over the years so many people have told me stories about a teacher who changed their life. It may not be the idealized version of some teacher we dream of for our children. For me, this was a tough relationship, born of adversity and failure, where I was lucky enough to encounter a teacher who could meet me where I was, without judgment, but with the inspiration that I needed. All it took was one. If you have a story, and want to share it with that former teacher, visit my Facebook page, Shoot4Education and leave me a message.

Follow Michael Elliot on Twitter: www.twitter.com/shoot4education

Bronx Principal Jamaal Bowman Redesigning Education

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Bronx Middle School Principal, Jamaal Bowman spoke before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force at The College of New Rochelle in New York on Oct 29. Beginning with his own personal dilemma over choosing a school for his own daughter, Mr. Bowman laid out a vision of what education should be and isn’t under the pressures of the federal mandates associated with NCLB and Race to the Top. This past week the NAEP scores (National Assessment of Educational Progress) were released, revealing significant weaknesses after many years of high stakes testing and educational reform initiatives. The NAEP results reflect the apprehension Mr. Bowman, and many teachers and parents have expressed. The reforms are costly, disruptive and lack any research or evidence to back up the results promised.

Principal Bowman makes the case to the Task Force that if we honestly want to raise student achievement, lower the achievement gap, or the opportunity gap as he calls it and prepare students to meet their future challenges; we need to begin by focusing with great emphasis on birth to 8 years old. Bowman offers up a vision for public education, evidenced by the practices at his CASA Middle School, that is more humane, more intimate and more closely aligned to the needs of students, the strengths of teachers and the innate brilliance in all our kids. Jamaal Bowman knows his kids and with the research to back up his approach, he makes it clear that by empowering teachers and inspiring children toward their passions, in an atmosphere that embraces our diversity, we have the capacity to realize the goals that the current reforms are failing to produce.

Jamaal Bowman NYS Task Force Hearing 1 from Shoot4Education on Vimeo.

Yohuru Williams – “The Lessons are Eternal” What FDR knew about Corp Ed Reform

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“The Lessons are Eternal” What FDR Knew About Corporate Education Reform from Shoot4Education on Vimeo.

Dr. Yohuru Willams gave the Keynote at The Call to Educational Justice Conference on Oct 17th. This is 12 min of his 20 min presentation.

Time to Unite To Face Addiction

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This article originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.com

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Today, the health crisis of addiction cuts across so many other issues we face. It’s a social justice issue with mass incarcerations overflowing our expanding prison industrial complex. It’s an education issue because it affects children in such incredible numbers, and is one of the most profound killers of young people in this country. It’s a political crisis because politicians lack the knowledge and courage to take action. Addiction takes a terrible toll on families, on our health care system, on the economy and on the vitality of our youth. Currently we treat addiction like a moral failing, like an issue of personal responsibility rather than treating it like the disease it is.

Addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a public health crisis impacting more than 85 million Americans. Today is the day we begin facing addiction. We stand with thousands of others on the National Mall to #UNITEtoFaceAddiction and end the silence on addiction, along with Joe Walsh, Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, The Fray, Jason Isbell, John Rzeznik and more special guests. Watch history unfold live: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/2yJ3N2cjfjp

Source: Michael Elliot

The Other PARCC

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On a weekend in December, I took a borrowed camera and lights and headed to Montclair, New Jersey. All weekend long, one after another, public school parents and students tromped down the basement stairs in the home of a parent activist. She and other parents had assembled a diverse collection of urban and suburbanites, so that I could record their testimony. They wanted to talk about the changes that they were witnessing in their schools and in their children, changes which they believed emanated directly from corporate education reforms, and in particular, the upcoming PARCC Standardized Tests.