Diane Ravitch | 8 Powerful Voices for Public Ed Film Series

The first release in a series of 8 viral short videos, Diane Ravitch explains how public education is being damaged by Read more

John Kuhn | 2 School Districts, 1 Ugly Truth

What’s wrong with the way we fund our schools? Listen to Texas Superintendent John Kuhn’s powerful Read more

Linda Lyon | She Served Our Country. Now She's Fighting For Our Kids,

“Privatization is as much about limiting the power of the average citizen as it is about increasing profits.” Watch Linda Lyon from Arizona talk about charters and vouchers and the destruction they Read more

Jesse Hagopian | Teach What Matters

 Teacher Jesse Hagopian shares a devastating classroom story, but it’s not hopeless. We need to teach to the child and not to the test. TEACH WHAT Read more

Johanna Garcia | The Uncomfortable Truth About the Tests

 "You can't heal the inequities that plague our schools by administering tests that are toxic to our kids!". Listen to parent activist Johanna Read more

Lost Arts

Co-writer Kemala Karmen Deputy Director, Co-Founder NYCpublic   The trajectory of my life was forever changed by Eileen Daniel Riddle and James Gilchrist, two high school theater arts teachers who worked at my pre-busing, segregated suburban high school in the early 1970s. I was a struggling student, but they introduced me, and so many others, to what would become a lifelong passion. Read more

The Other PARCC

The PARCC was once the standardized test of choice for many states laying claim to alignment with CCSS. Once parents started to take a look at the quality of the testing, the curriculum it was aligned to, and the costs to their school districts, all of that changed. Parents really do have the Read more

When You Refuse The Tests

Posted on by Michael Elliot in Video Release | Leave a comment

“When You Refuse the Tests”
Jeanette Deutermann spoke at PS 261 in Brooklyn in March 2015. Her presentation to a small crowd in the school auditorium that night, went on to inspire tens of thousands of parents across the country to join the Opt Out movement and refuse to participate in high-stakes standardized testing.

Lost Arts

Posted on by shoot4edu in Press, Video Release | Leave a comment

Co-writer Kemala Karmen
Deputy Director, Co-Founder NYCpublic


The trajectory of my life was forever changed by Eileen Daniel Riddle and James Gilchrist, two high school theater arts teachers who worked at my pre-busing, segregated suburban high school in the early 1970s. I was a struggling student, but they introduced me, and so many others, to what would become a lifelong passion. I made this film for all the teachers who pour their hearts into children, yet live in a world where there is scant appreciation or even understanding that teaching is no mere job, but a manifestation of love, a calling.

No one chooses to be a teacher for the money. The pay, for incredibly difficult and exhausting work, isn’t enough to make it worth it. Many parents struggle with one or two kids, but multiply that by 25 or more, for 6 to 8 hours a day, and it’s a long day. The oft-repeated (and inaccurate) tropes of “big pensions” and “summers off” indicate a failure to comprehend the demanding circumstances teachers face in order to do their jobs–and the actual figures stamped on their pay stubs. Over the years, education policy has done little to rectify this ignorance and, some would argue, has actually stoked its fires.

Gone are reasonable budgets and an emphasis on enrichment. The arts, music, science, social studies, geography, shop, drama, sports, school orchestras–vanished or, if still extant, much more limited and restricted. Still, schools and local PTAs try to fill in where they can afford to, and teachers try to make it work in the classrooms. But the enormity and pain of these losses is palpable, and recent enough that the cuts continue to sting. Just the other day, a friend lamented about the diminished role the arts play in her children’s school–the very school she had attended as a child. When she was a student, the arts infused the school day, every day. The recorder, the violin, singing, the school play–these were the norm, not an exception. Her children, on the other hand, have curated arts experiences, little tastes of this art or that, “extras” parachuted in at predetermined points of the school year. This makes the job of teachers all the more difficult. While there has always been, and will continue to be, a subset of children who thrive in the classroom with little more than the “3 Rs,” a pencil, and a bit of lined paper, the regular presence of the arts and other enrichments provided teachers the means of reaching a wide array of children for whom traditional seat work had proved a woefully insufficient inducement.


Let me be clear that I’m not waxing poetic about years past. There’s never been a time where we achieved equity and equal funding for all schools. Still, in recent years, we have been systematically stripping away everything that inspires children, and for those with the least, we’re replacing it with an austere, remedial world of basics, and no more.

Somewhere along the way, those who make education policy lost their way. They may have started from a place of good intentions, of wanting to ensure that all children got their due, but the obsession with metrics that now dominates our schools is predicated on the false assumption that children can be standardized, that they all need exactly the same thing at exactly the same time, and that there are ways to accurately measure that they have all hit whatever pre-determined benchmarks they are expected to hit at precisely the same moments. Compared to the hard work of real education, which requires nuance, skill, and the creativity to meet individual children with unique strengths and challenges, this standardization approach–also known as the “business” or “accountability” model–is literally and figuratively cheap. It also makes it easy for politicians to blame teachers and schools when the standards aren’t met. In essence, we are using data to try to quantify the educational progress of children, while losing sight of what inspires them to learn, and what inspires teachers to educate. This is how we value our children and the teachers who spend so much time with them.


That brings me back to my own experience of school. Today, it’s doubtful I would have tested out of high school, much less continued on to college. If we continue with the test-centric business model of education, we build failure into the system and we dishonor and underappreciate those who try so hard to bring our children to their fullest potential. This dishonor, sadly, is the true state of “teacher appreciation,”–which is observed in the U.S. this week (aka “Teacher Appreciation Week”)–with McDonalds discounts and other dubious rewards.

The film represents my gratitude, and my hope. I hope we can stop for a moment and realize we’re destroying the immense value teachers bring to our children, and with it, our messy, imperfect–yet amazing–public education system.

Why Our Kids Don’t Love School Anymore

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On a weekend in December, I took a borrowed camera and lights and headed out to Montclair, New Jersey. All weekend long, one after another, public school parents and students tromped down the basement stairs in the home of an MCAS member. She and her fellow parent activists 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. (PARCC, an acronym for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is a multi-state consortium that has engaged the testing and publishing behemoth Pearson to create the Common Core-aligned computer-based standardized tests.)

Parents and students talked about the dramatic changes in curriculum and a flood of test prep in classes and homework. Some spoke about the massive expenditures for technology and testing materials, as hands-on instructional time declined. Parents of children with special education needs and individualized education plans (IEPs), found the implications of these changes particularly troubling. Many were concerned that the test-obsessed curriculum would undermine their community’s focus on equity and desegregation. Most devastating, parent after parent described an insidious slide in the engagement of their children with school. They were all deeply frustrated and fed up with being ignored by policy makers and the media.

Getting their story out of the basement and into the larger world is what we did with my borrowed equipment on that cold December weekend.

The Other PARCC from Shoot4Education on Vimeo.

Top Ten Reasons to Opt Out of the State Tests

Posted on by Michael Elliot in Uncategorized, Video Release | Leave a comment

What are the reasons you should opt your kids out of standardized testing? Find out here!

No Threat Left Behind: New York City Stifles Opt Out

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Co-Writer Kemala Karmen
Deputy Director, Co Founder NYC Public

With more than 200,000 students — or nearly 1 in 5 of all eligible test takers–refusing to sit for annual standardized tests, New York State made headlines last spring for leading the nation in sheer number of opt outs. The parent-led opt out movement worked hard to get those numbers, getting an unexpected boost from voters disgusted by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s hubristic overreach in pushing the Education Transformation Act of 2015. (The legislation proposed that as much as fifty percent of a teacher’s evaluation would hinge on test score “growth.”)  However, if you take even the tiniest of peeks at the distribution of those opt out numbers, one thing will immediately become apparent: New York City, with a test refusal rate of only 1.4%, is not keeping up with the pack. Why? What’s going on?

As parents of New York City public school children, we can tell you. And it’s not pretty. Whether you are a parent in a “high performing” school with plenty of middle and upper class children or a parent with a child in a “low performing” school with a population weighed down by the stresses of poverty, there is a powerful deterrent custom-made for you when it comes to making the decision of whether or not to allow a child to take the tests.

The most dire of threats, school closure, falls heavily on the city’s 94 Renewal Schools.  These schools, which serve predominantly low-income, minority, and immigrant communities, receive the “Renewal” designation largely due to their poor showing on state tests. (Graduation rates come into play for high schools.) When the de Blasio/Fariña administration introduced the Renewal Program, which is supposed to pump resources into struggling schools, it was positioned as an alternative to the unpopular school closure policy favored by Bloomberg/Klein. But a school can only be removed from the program through an improvement in test scores–on the same disastrous state tests that have been roundly criticized by parents, teachers, administrators, and now, even Governor Cuomo’s own Common Core Task Force.  Parents are scared of losing their schools completely, whether to charterization or state receivership, and the test-based exit criteria pressures them into seeing testing as essential for school survival. In an effort to raise those scores come hell or high water, children who need so much more than drill-and-test are fed the narrowest test-prep workbook curriculum.

The gravest impediment to opt out that the NYC Department of Education hangs over the heads of parents and children in other communities is the middle school and high school admissions process. Unlike elsewhere in the state, New York City has a complicated, and medical-school-competitive, admissions model. (The comparison to medical school is no exaggeration; New York hired the same team who designed the system that matches medical school students to residencies to design the system that matches teenage students to high schools.) Although state law now precludes test scores from being the sole or primary factor in a school’s admission formula, the city still sends student scores to the receiving institutions. This makes parents distrust even those schools who say they don’t consider test scores at all. After all, if the score is right there in front of the admissions team, what’s to stop them from looking and using it to make shorthand determinations about the student? Moreover, admissions rules seem to be constantly changing and no one knows what the future will bring. Currently, in all but a few instances, only 4th grade and 7th grade scores are used, respectively, for middle school and high school admissions, but will the rules change? Every principal will tell you there’s no way to know. Getting into the school that is a good match for your child is on the minds of parents from the moment their children hit the 3rd grade, so the fear around this issue is enough to make any parent pause–and to make many of them think, well, even if only 4th grade counts, to be safe, I probably should have my 8 year old take the third grade test as practice. Ditto, the 5th and 6th grade tests, because 7th grade is the admissions ticket. As for 8th grade, that’s practice for the new, more stringent, high school Regents exams. There are no avenues for discussion here. In many districts, there is no neighborhood middle school that you can fall back on, and few zoned high schools remain. It’s school roulette, and the NYCDOE holds all the cards.

In much of the state, parents were motivated to opt out because they wanted to protect their beloved teachers. They reasoned that refusing the tests would mean there would be no spurious data for test-based teacher evaluations. (Note: No parent we know is saying, “Don’t evaluate our teachers”–just don’t evaluate them via this discredited test-based model.) But here in the city, Chancellor Fariña has stated that growth in test scores should weigh 30% or more in teacher evaluations. Indeed, in some ways the city has outdone the state in tying scores to evaluation: the state sets a threshold of 16 scores before it assigns a teacher rating; in the city a mere 6 scores is considered a sufficient sample for both the state and local “measures.” Six scores is three students taking both the English and Math exams. Imagine: a teacher may have a classroom of 32 kids (the contractual limit for elementary school), but have the lion’s share of their evaluation based on how three children perform. This understandably makes teachers nervous about who those three children might be and families may feel that burden as they weigh test refusal.

Finally, a gag order threat hangs over teachers and principals.  They are not allowed to speak to parents about opt out.  They can offer no insight into the tests themselves, they cannot advise you if the tests are inappropriate for your child, they can only ask you what you want to do.  In many instances teachers and administrators don’t have accurate information themselves on the viability of opt out, so they repeat the lines given them by the NYCDOE: Take the tests!  There is a crackdown going on right now to try and strangle the New York City opt out community entirely.  Teachers and principals are threatened with being labeled insubordinate if they speak the truth about testing.  If they make any attempt to protect children from the abuses of these tests, their careers hang in the balance.  This goes for principals as well as teachers.  Watch as Anita Skop, Superintendent of Schools in Brooklyn’s District 15, clearly following Chancellor’s orders, explains to parents that under no circumstances should teachers or principals speak with parents about their concerns regarding the tests.

There are no protections here, no local school board or activist union to shield teachers and parents from the wrath of city government.  Cross the line and there can be consequences, albeit vague and opaque in nature.  And all of this is coming from the allegedly progressive, education-savvy Mayor Bill de Blasio and his handpicked Chancellor Carmen Fariña. Parents are being denied their rights, educators are being silenced, and it’s the kids who suffer.

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.