“Charter School Teachers on a Mission for Change”

When I first started teaching it was in a charter school, and I quickly learned what Right to Work meant, when I attempted to stand up for my students against oppressive Zero Tolerance policies and was summarily relieved of my teaching position.  Fired.  For standing up for students.

I applaud the members of the American Federation of Teachers Alliance for Charter Teachers and Staff (AFT-ACTS), and their newest members in Chicago both of UNO Charter Schools and Chicago Quest.

Below is a letter form the teachers of Quest, and I do hope you will take the time to support their cause.  

Better teacher conditions are better learning conditions, and we are all Chicago teachers.

Enjoy,

Adam

“Teachers on a Mission for Change”

“There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.—Indira Gandhi

“32 of the 33 educators at CICS ChicagoQuest declared that they are organizing a union at their school to strengthen the relationships between the school, teachers, school management, and other stakeholders to ensure student-centered policies” (ACTS story). For over three months, Civitas Education Partners has failed to recognize the union that our teachers and staff have formed.Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.44.38 AM.png

On December 18th, in a powerful demonstration of unity and commitment, our staff stood together at a staff meeting, reading one line of our mission statement at a time to our administration. We wore union buttons and revealed our “beautiful people flyer,” with each union member’s picture and quote explaining why we want to unionize. We announced three demands:

1. that ChicagoQuest, Civitas and CICS recognize our union.

2. that ChicagoQuest, Civitas, and CICS bargain with us under the terms of the existing Civitas union contract, with Quest-specific addenda.

3. that CICS agree to terms for future organizing and bargaining at other CICS schools.

CICS and Civitas have disregarded all three demands. Representatives from our union, Chicago ACTS, and Stacy Beardsley (CEO of Civitas) have had three meetings to negotiate recognition and terms for bargaining. Instead of respecting our unified voice, Civitas has stalled on making forward progress.

Ms. Beardsley’s response is unreasonable, illogical, and disparaging. She says our game-like, 21st century-learning school is too unique to operate under the existing Civitas contract. Yet our sister school Quest2Learn, in New York City, is operating successfully under the UFT (United Federation of Teachers) in NYSUT (New York State United Teachers). The only concrete reason she has given that CQ can’t be in the Civitas union is a “financial” or “monetary” one (meaning she wants to continue having pay freezes instead of offering fair pay).

Chicago International Charter Schools has also disregarded our demands.  On February 18th, three parents and twenty-six ChicagoQuest staff members showed unity at the CICS Board of Directors meeting and spoke to the board. The board claims they cannot respond to our demands because they are not the direct employer of CICS ChicagoQuest (deflecting the issue back to Civitas).

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While Civitas has been stalling, the ChicagoQuest staff is already focused on union actions to improve school conditions for staff and students. In January we signed a petition demanding that the school create an Emergency Response Plan (since, over 6 months into the school year, our school had no instructions or drills for fires, tornados, lock-downs, etc.). The school responded in one week, supplied all classrooms with laminated plans, and we have recently held safety drills. We are emboldened by the fact that our union is already making important improvements for our students!

We are calling on all allies of our union to support us and help put pressure on Civitas and CICS to recognize our union. We requested that CICS change the date, time, and location of the April board meeting so that more stakeholders can attend (as it is difficult for parents to attend a meeting during work hours, at 4pm, and it is also during the CICS spring break, so many staff members will be out of town).  They said NO to our request.

How Can I Support the CICS ChicagoQuest Union?

1. Write a public letter to CICS & Civitas demanding that they recognize our union and change the April Board Meeting for ALL CICS teachers, staff and parents (write to or call them privately, and publicize your request in any media to which you have access)

Aubrey Monks (School Director)  amonks@chicagoquest.org

Stacy Beardsley (CEO of Civitas Schools)  sbeardsley@civitasschools.org

Beth Purvis (CEO of CICS)  bpurvis@chicagointl.org

2. Attend an alternative board meeting we are proposing to CICS on April 24th, 6pm, since CICS refused to move the April Board Meeting to a reasonable time and date.  Location TBD (check our facebook page for updates). Encourage any colleagues to attend as well.

3. Attend the April Board Meeting even though CICS would not change the date and time.

4. Like our facebook page and spread it around! https://www.facebook.com/CQ4Union

In Unity,

The members of the CQ Union

 

 

I just took the Practice PARCC exam, and boy, do I feel…

On March 13th, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers published sample PARCC tests, and so I decided to make an *honest* attempt at it tonight.  But I also took notes along the way in case you’re interested.  Most might not make sense…until you take it yourself (which I am hoping you do, so we an rant about it over beers next week!)

SPOILER ALERT: Whatever I did or didn’t do (sign in so the NSA can track me, perhaps?), I don’t actually know my results.  I don’t know why.  At this point, I really don’t care.  I am pretty sure I blew it though.  Yeaaap, so.   Now it’s time to cry myself to sleep.

Enjoy-

AH

Notes as I take the ELA Practice PARCC for 11th graders.

3/25/2014 ; Start: 6:10pm

23 two-part questions.

Why does this start out with a question about DNA and enzymes.  We won’t study this in social studies class.  Like ever.

Questions are way too complex, response options don’t make sense. 

Took me four times to drag and drop supporting evidence.  Said “not all supporting details would be used,” but all of them were.

“Add enzymes” vs add enzymes to a sample being studied” (but this was a summarized option), very confusing.

Question asks for “steps required in DNA ident…”  but how did this turn into, “why it’s possible,”  and  “how easy it’ll be.” for Part B?

Daedalus & Icarus….Only cause I already know the story does this make ANY sense.

Instructions: “Today you will read two poems about Greek Mythology” but the second is actually an Anne Sexton poem.

Central idea: Only bc I know the context of what Icarus’ story has inspired.  Incredibly complex! I feel like I’m flying into the sun right now.

13 questions in…I’m pretty tired.  Stamina low…now, TWO essays.  Holy crap.

Abigail Addams “stood up for those who lacked power like slaves, women, and the colonies.”  Um, OK, so now the test is making sweeping judgments about complex systems of race, sex, and diverse communities, & who has power within them?!

Frankly I am disappointed in the historical reading.  This is low-grade textbook stuff, rife with assumptions about the Addams’ and early American society that the reader is to take as truth, without citations.  No document based analysis.

I skimmed this piece…getting exhausted.  Don’t care about how well I do, just going to guess (6:48p, question 15).

I just realized (Question 18) that I am supposed to be reading a new document- a letter from Abigail Addams (primary source), but I had no idea.  Looks the same from the instructions.

Question 19…just guessed.  Test fatigue set in.

Question 20, I think these are all different letters from Abigail.  This is boring as shit, and I always love teaching about the Addams’ !

Question 22, I used the “Evidence” to justify the claim, even though it said to to do the opposite…we’ll see if that little bit of test-trickery pays dividends!

And then I was instructed to write 3 essays to which I simply wrote, “I hate you PARCC, I hate you Common Core, I hate you TestNav.”

I ended the test at 6:59pm. (49 min.)

Tried looking for an answer key and I couldn’t find one.

Well, I am NOT feeling confident about this.

There are definite issues with content and context.  No text is without context, because if we want readers to engage with or appreciate any text they need to know what motivated the author to put quill to paper in the first place.  These readings are just as bad as any other standardized test. Only MUCH longer. The complexity of the texts and the questions are not age or grade appropriate. 

The instructions are confusing.  The language in the social science text is bigoted.  The TestNav platform is awkward and not intuitive.  Details like the background colors; text font don’t allow for me to recognize transitions to new material (e.g. Addam’s letter, scroll bar) compared to if this were a paper and pen test the new material would have the visual-tactile cue of page-turning.

So what do we do with a series of bad tests?  I applaud Indiana for backing out of Common Core- even though I don’t approve of the conservative reasons behind it.  We all need to do the same, and institute portfolio assessments and locally-designed curriculum moving forward.

Letter to the Editor(s) of the Kankakee Daily Journal

I am very disappointed in the recent Editorial from the Kankakee Daily Journal writers who have completely misrepresented the facts about the Chicago Teachers Union’s support of the parent’s testing boycott.  How far has journalistic research fallen?

Born and raised in Kankakee, I now teach social studies in a large Chicago Public School on the southwest side.  I am also an elected and active delegate to the Chicago Teachers Union.  I am directly involved in the testing Opt-Out boycott, which to clarify on behalf of the Journal, does not state that parents should “keep their children home” as the Journal claimed, but rather, send their children to school on ISAT Testing Day with an Opt-Out letter and books to read silently while testing are administered.

Last year, a few of my students opted-out of the second day of the Prairie State Achievement Exam (called Work-Keys) and you know what happened?  Nothing. The Work-Keys test only gauges certain non-academic work-place tasks, like reading a manual and following a set of instructions (like, to build a “thing” the student won’t actually get to build in real life because they’re just taking a test). Neither CPS, the state of Illinois, nor potential colleges are holding anything against those students, in fact I know of at least one of them who wrote about his experience opting-out as “civic engagement” for a college entrance essay.

There is very little that standardized testing can tell us in the way that it is being used today.  I draw a very clear distinction from the kind of standardized testing that I was doing in high school, little more than a decade ago.  The newest assessments do not reflect content being taught, and are not created, or scored by actual educators.  

In nice round numbers, I am mandated by CPS administration to dedicate more than one month of my students’ classroom time to testing and test prep, of which, only three hours of that is mandated for graduation in the Illinois.  But that’s for only my class; my students have seven others they visit each day.  As multiple news local outlets have reported, even kindergarteners in CPS elementary schools are spending a third of their year -60 days- on testing.  Yes, Kindergarten.  

In the Civil Rights era standardized tests were created to assure equitable distribution of resources in schools, but that doesn’t account for the upsurge in testing today. What is different now is the that we have two-fisted “carrot-or-stick” legislation in the  No Child Left Behind Act – which labels schools who don’t make the grade “failing”, and the follow-up piece Race to the Top which “leases” those public schools -and all our tax dollars that go with it- to the highest bidder, namely charter school operators who are not beholden to public school funding transparency laws.  With those groups, we never know how much of our money they are spending on classrooms or slick advertising, nor why they keep kicking out students with special needs because they claim those public school laws do not apply to them.  However we do know that charter operators suspend students at higher rates right before times of standardized testing, which has the effect of increasing their average test scores, making the charter schools look much better on paper than their public school counterparts.  I should know, I taught at a charter school.

We know that as a whole, standardized testing does not show us what students know, but rather is a closer predictor for what zip-code they live in, and at best they can tell us how well any given student may do in only their first year of college.  The newest brand of tests coming to Illinois next year, the Common Core-aligned MAP and PARCC -the whole reason we’re phasing out ISAT anyway, do not test content, only math and reading skills, and only on a computer screen.  So much for Columbus, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Michelangelo, Daily Journal Editors.

We also know that with the high-stakes attached to the tests, principals are increasingly under pressure, and even willing to cut programming especially in the arts, vocational technology, and electives such as my American Law class (one of the more popular courses we used to offer) to make room for a test-prep courses.  Perhaps if Kankakee teachers -I used to be one of them, too- aren’t sending Students of the Month for “top-speller” it’s because Spelling-Bees have been all but eliminated with everything else we used to love about school.

The bright note in all of this is that there are only three tests that are mandated by state law to graduate in IL: the first day of the PSAE, a beginning-of-the-year (BOY) exam, and an end-of-the-year (EOY) exam.  Everything else is added on by local districts and can be opted-out of, if parents so choose.   We need parents across IL to choose to opt their children out of irrelevant, valueless, and ultimately harmful tests.

We know that what happens in IL, happens first in Chicago.  So while the Daily Journal reporting on a Chicago issue could have shown tremendous foresight for what’s coming to all our schools across IL,  I do hope in the future they get their opinions from actual people who live it everyday.

The Tragedy behind Noble Street Charters – a Skimmed Lottery

I am teaching logic and argumentation in civics this week, and one of my favorite #edjustice advocates, Katie Hogan has submitted a response to Noble St. CEO Mike Milkie’s OpEd regarding expulsion rates at his charter network.  We’ll see if the news outlet publishes, but I couldn’t resist.

Enjoy!

Adam

In response to “Expulsion heartbreaking but necessary,” by Michael Milkie February 21, 2014

As a teacher for fourteen years in CPS neighborhood schools I can empathize with the pathos in Mr. Milkie’s arguments in the February 21st, 2014 editorial.  Mr. Milkie argues that although it is “heartbreaking” to have to expel so many students, he has to make the tough choices for “high expectations and personal accountability.”  After all, I myself, have had those days where the one or two most disruptive and combative students were absent.  I’ve imagined what it would be like teach everyday with the absence of their complex, and often excruciatingly frustrating presence.  Where I could just “teach,” and not metaphorically duck and head roll the verbal and emotional outburst of my most troubled young people.  Yet, Mr. Milkie offers us a red herring argument about Noble Street’s darker, more disturbing contribution to our city’s educational disparity – Mr. Milkie’s good intentions and polished verbiage trick us to look at the Noble expelled as sacrificial lambs abandoned to the wolves – or neighborhood schools – for the good of the pack; in fact, we are looking at the wrong end of the spectrum.  Noble’s true tragedy is what they take from the proverbial top, not what they kick out from the bottom.

Although it is true that Noble Street schools maintain a lottery of applicants – it is a skimmed lottery.  The skimming occurs in the way in which parents get an application to enter the lottery.  This application occurs only after the parent, or guardians, have attended a multiple hour – sometimes over three hours – meeting about the culture of Noble Street.  I actually take no issue for the philosophical intentions of Noble Street to hold these meetings, but what the practical implications of skimming from these meetings does to the academic diversity in the rest of the city.  There are few stronger statistical correlations between parental involvement and student success in school.  Beyond common sense, study after study, has shown that parental involvement trumps just about any other statistical factor – with the exception of family income – that an educational researcher can find.  These students even have a name in educational research “academically oriented” students.  Academically oriented students outpace even their higher testing peers when it comes to g.p.a. school retention, and college persistence.  Parental involvement –especially in communities in poverty- is the surest bet for a young person to achieve success by every measure of our society.  These are the young people that Noble receives and educate.  They are also the young people that are disappearing from our public, neighborhood schools.  More importantly, these are the parents moving in mass toward each other from public schools into this charter chain.

As a parent myself I can also empathize with each one of the desperate and often C.P.S. scarred adults who strongly defend and protect this intimate and personal decision.  I know I want the best for my own daughter, how can I fault any other parent?  I don’t.  Parents are used and mistreated by C.P.S. on a daily basis.  My argument is not even with Mr. Milkie himself who I believe in his heart really does want what is best for kids.

My argument is with leaders of this school system who are charged with educating all children, not just those from academically oriented homes, and turn a blind eye to the growing three tiered system of selective enrollment, charter, and public schools that continues to decide the winners and losers not based on what is best for the community, or city; but what is best for the next election, real estate development, or church group he or she belongs to.

Mr. Milkie begins his article with an impressive statistic of projected college success with the qualifier: “if history repeats itself.”  Yet, he does not need that qualifier.  History will repeat itself at Noble.  The schools that are run this way are perhaps the least risky bet in this entire district.  His students will succeed.  His ACT numbers will continue to rise.  He will be given more schools to run.  But Mr. Milkie and those who support charter school expansion have made a Faustian bet that they cannot ever take back.  There is a price for their continued success.  The price is that just like taking a troubled young person out of a classroom for a day improves the quality of an education; taking out an academically oriented child and his or her parents also decreases the quality of the schools of origin.  Just as I teach better when the trouble maker is out of the room; my lessons and parental relationships suffer when these students join others like them at these educational havens for active and engaged parents.

As a city we do far greater harm to all of our children by continuing policies that only benefit a few.  I remember when I was growing up and joined the local park district softball league they had tryouts before setting the teams.  After the tryouts I found out that all my friends – all the best players – were split up onto different teams.  Upset I asked my dad why they did that, after all, it made it seem like we were being punished for being good players and good friends.  He smiled and told me that not only would I be a better player because the teams would be even, but that everyone would end the season better than when we started.  And you know what, he was right.  I will spend the rest of my professional life defending the “we,” over the “me.”  It’s a hard argument, but it’s the right one: the noble one.

Class Action: An Activist Teacher’s Handbook

The newest Jacobin project features articles about the coordinated fight back against corporate-style education reform and all the damage it has done to our public school system.  I say without exaggeration, that it is some of the most cogent and heartfelt writing collected on the topic from educators on the front line, and as a contributor, I am both humbled and grateful to be published alongside such champions as Will Johnson, Mariame Kaba, Micah Uetricht, Kenzo Shibata, and Lois Weiner.
Class Action is available via digital download for free, but I encourage you all to buy a copy (~$13 after shipping) as I believe you will find yourself referencing the articles often in future conversations and classes you teach.  Also, please be sure to share the link via social media.
So congratulations to Bhaskar (Jacobin publisher), the Caucus of Rank and file Educators (CORE), and all the contributors.
Towards the public schools all children deserve-
Adam

Hearts and Minds: Teaching and Learning the Relevant and Valuable

Share widely, and please let me know what resonates with viewers in the comments below. Thx!

Special thanks to many, many groups and individuals who helped both -knowingly and not- in the production of this film including:

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Mikva Challenge & Center for Action Civics, Meira Levinson & Facing History
The Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE)
Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce
Save Ethnic Studies of Arizona
ADAPT

Catalyst Chicago, National Louis Univ., and Teach+

More specifically, and in no particular order: Steve Zemelman, Mark Larson, Jill Bass, Anton Miglietta, Xian Barrett, Shanti Elliot, Liz Brown, A.C. Knapik, Hannah Willage, Pam Konkol, Sarah Slavin, Sabrina Stevens, Jose Luis Vilson, Meira Levinson, Elizabeth Robbins, Bill Keundig, and Amber Smock…for so much I have learned from you all.

Design Lessons for Students, not Standards

Happy Friday, all.  This one was originally posted on the VIVAteachers blog.  I’ll ask some students if I can feature their projects up here next week.

For more on CCSS, see previous post.    

Enjoy!

NOVEMBER 14, 2013 by  LEAVE A COMMENT

Design Lessons for Students, not Standards

I consider most conflicts to be problems of design.  As a teacher, my first task is always to design lessons that are engaging.  Some teachers do this very easily with humor, or great storytelling.  I do this by prioritizing relevant and valuable ideas shared by the students in the room, and I excel at that…  or so my students and their parents tell me.  If my designs are off, my lessons will not be engaging and my students will not learn.  And, believe me, students are quite effective at letting me know when my lessons are not engaging.

In general, learning standards are implemented as a design solution for a problem that never was.  In my nine years of teaching social studies and Spanish, I have had to learn and prioritize the Illinois Learning Standards – of which there are six different sets for the social studies ‑ along with socio-emotional standards, the ACT-aligned College Readiness Standards, and now the Common Core State Standards for literacy.  (There are no social studies standards for this newest set, so by default, I am directed to use the non-fiction reading and writing standards.)  As part of my evaluation, all of these standards are to be accounted for in my lesson plans, as if they add value that wasn’t already there in the lessons I’ve been teaching.   Please consider the value and relevance of the following lesson currently happening in my classroom.

I teach Financial Literacy as a semester-long social studies course for high school juniors in a Chicago public school.  The first quarter, which just finished on October 31st, focused on professional skills; the second quarter revolves around money management.  This week my students – who have just completed their mock interview for a future career – must go through the steps of determining a place to live on a fixed salary, and then present their decision to their peers in the form of a brief PowerPoint presentation.

To complete this project, the students must first determine their biweekly net pay and cost of living expenses (determined by scale based upon their grade from last semester, e.g. students who received an “A” earn $42,000, and performance in the mock interview), and then they must find a place to live.  To do this, students scour the Internet for classified ads on webservers like Craigslist. They quickly realize that the students who did really well in the mock interview have an easier time finding a desirable living arrangement, while the ones who didn’t do so well might have to find a classmate willing to be a roommate.  Some even have to explain in their presentations why they are living at home in their parents’ attic!

Year after year, this is one of the most popular lessons I do with my students because they consider it both relevant and valuable to their real lives.  Students will (hopefully) be moving out of their parents’ homes in a few years, and this lesson is usually the first opportunity they have had to navigate their possibilities for determining their living options.  This is an assignment that requires some adult support, but relies on students’ autonomy and ingenuity.  They love being able to compare who got the “better deal” on the “coolest” apartment.

They apply mathematical skill-sets of adding, subtracting, multiplying and proportioning for the paychecks; techno-literacy, geo-spatial mapping, and economic decision-making to determine a place to live; and communication skills both in the presentation of their PowerPoint and in the negotiations of “what’s fair” between roommates for who get different sized rooms.  Some of the students argue that since their partners/roommates are contributing unequal amounts money, than perhaps that person’s bedroom will be the size of a walk-in closet.  We all get a good laugh, and then move on to budgeting in the real world the following week.

If I have explained the purpose of this activity clearly, the reader probably wasn’t judging this lesson based upon their determining what standard I was trying to teach.  That’s because I’m not trying to teach a standard, I am teaching a valuable lesson to young people: how to find a place to live when you are on your own, something that most people have to do sometime in their young adult lives.

This lesson has changed very little over the years I have taught it.  Neither the Common Core nor the College Readiness Standards, and not even the Illinois Learning Standards have any bearing on the value of this lesson.  The standards are inconsequential.  The activities are not derived from or determined by standards; the lesson comes from the students’ needs to master content that is relevant and valuable to their lives.

Most of the lessons I design prioritize what is relevant to the content and valuable to students and our community.  But this is changing in my classroom, as it is across the profession, with the pressure either to align our current curricula to the standards, or to design different activities that justify the assessments (read: standardized tests). What then happens to valuable lessons like the one I’ve describes?   They get relegated to “extra credit” instead of being the subject matter of everyday learning, and teachers have to tailor classroom learning to the assessments that teachers most likely did not design.

This is not an appeal for more help in learning how to implement the standards better in my teaching.  If I wanted support for applying the Common Core in my classroom, I could get it.  I could ask my administration or my union, and both would be responsive.  I could attend any number of professional development sessions, or sign on for some webinars in my pajamas any night of the week.  Google turns up unlimited implementation ideas I could put in place immediately, and Education Week is forever advertising a new solution system for my administration to buy.  Yes, the Common Core has designed an entire market of solutions for a problem that didn’t exist five years ago.  What if all that money went directly into classrooms instead?

No, I don’t want support for Common Core. I simply believe we should not do it, because it does not prioritize the needs of the people in the teaching and learning process: students and educators.  In fact, I believe we should actively resist its implementation, and provide educators with the autonomy, support and time to design engaging lessons in the ways they know best: by prioritizing the people in the room.

“When you assume, you make a CCSS of you and me”

The Common Core is laden with serious problems, and it makes me want to vomit, but not until after I school some folks, out of the loop.  I won’t even bring up the fact -as TeacherX likes to point out- that it’s “a $14 billion Trojan horse for more testing.”

A week before school started and I had to sit through a horrible professional development that was put together by our “network literacy specialist” who, when I asked her where she got the document she responded that ” it was something I got from a friend.”  As if that’s good enough.  Thank you for your honesty in describing how you waste my time with such little forethought.

I was so livid about the content and methods, I posted pics to these to social media with the comment below.  Please note the description for the “close reading” strategy:

The text below (Dees) was given to teachers as professional development on literacy strategies for CCSS. The disposition we take is that this should be text-dependent reading, un-contextualized (second pic). This document expounding the virtues of vulture capitalism and philanthropic colonialism is meant to be read w/o understanding all the grief those two practices have caused in the world and more intimately in our Chicago communities. This is why educators must fight the common core animal head on. No text is without CONtext.
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In the margin, I wrote, “If background knowledge is secondary, then why pay for certified educators?  Why not do everything via virtual school?  (Adressing the “close reading strategy) Very problematic: [this reading is] disengaging, individualistic, [encourages to students to] develop[ing] false conclusions.  This is the centerpiece of the CCSS problem.”
Today the Examiner published a poorly-researched op-ed extolling the virtues of Common Core, missed the boat completely and declared that professors -the one he interviewed- think that the CCSS will improve “teachers expectations of learning for young black and brown men in Chicago and nationally,” even while admitting they probably won’t be implemented well in Chicago.  Which is true.
Below is my challenge to the ideas he put forth:
I call into question a serious assumption that he makes: It is extremely problematic to call reading the “most basic of skills…” To be sure, there is NOTHING basic about reading. As literate adults, we take for granted and forget that, but the reading process is extremely complex to both learn, and to teach, and only more so under threat of high stakes (testing, school closures, merit pay), and the conditions of our schools (rising class sizes, no AC, students experiencing trauma).

I am a social studies teacher in CPS, but because there are no Social Studies Standards, I “officially” teach “Literacy.” This is because in the 1980s’ standards implementation set off the “Culture Wars,” and so a strategic decision was made by the (non-teacher) “experts” from the Governor’s Association and Achieve, Inc. to replace social studies with literacy in order to pass a “common” set of standards across the US, and in doing so bypass the inherent bias in social studies education: “the question of “which/whose history is the subject of study, and therefore the “official history?”

The CCSS are written in a way to declare that if any given young person is meeting standards, they should be able to “analyze context given a piece of text” via critical thinking. But without context a reader cannot place importance or relevance into a given document, and therefore critical thinking DOES NOT take place at all, and the standards ultimately feign neutrality in the face of “bipartisanship.” Real neutrality means analyzing text and contexts. As I say to my students, “we must read the word AND read the world.” CCSS does not ask this of young people.

It does not matter what kind of standards are developed or aligned to what kind of tests. The only way to make learning valuable for young people is to make sure they have context for learning. No set of standards can provide context. Only when we recognize to invest in the people who engage in both teaching and learning will we start to value the process as a whole.

Here’s what needs to happen to improve the rate of success for young people:

1) Invest in humane and developmentally appropriate facilities and conditions for teaching and learning.

2) The job of Principal should not be “building manager,” but “teacher-leader” as they were 50 yr ago focusing on staff development.

3) Individualized Professional Development Plans: Support for educators to work on what they want to work on that directly translates to improved curriculum and instruction for students.

4) A rich and varied curriculum of not only STEM, but the arts, humanities, health, civics, and vocational experiences.

All of this is not cheap. But I am convinced that if the United States can afford 4 wars in 10 years, or money to bail out major banks we can afford a dignified education system for all children.

The need for standards is a myth, but a lucrative one at that, and pervasive in the education reform world.  As educators we roll our eyes, but we need to speak up and expose what it actually does to curriculum and instruction – and ultimately students- is harm.

AFT Research is a Call-to-Action: Testing is Out of Hand, Costly.

Today the American Federation of Teachers published “Testing More, Teaching Less: What America’s Obssesion with Student Testing Costs in Money and Instructional Time.”  It is an audit of the total time and money spent on testing and test-prep in two mid-sized districts given the pseudonyms, “Midwest District” and “Eastern District” and it validates what every student and teacher knows, what parents are furious over, and what legislators are quickly catching on to:

Americans are testing our children instead of teaching them.

The release of this study is also an exciting benchmark for me personally, as it the latest step in a collaborative labor of love spanning multiple states, both major teachers unions (AFT, and the larger National Education Association), policy-makers at every level, parents and students, and rank-and-file educators, all with the goal of getting transparency for taxpayers, stakeholders, and decision-makers who may often hear that “we’re testing too much” but don’t quite know what it looks like.  We started with the question, “Exactly how much of an impact is testing in our schools?”

At the 2012 American Federation of Teachers Convention, the Testing Cost Audit language (Resolution 5) was introduced from the floor of the convention, motivated by the Chicago Teacher Union.  The language, adopted from the New Mexico Senate Memorial 73, sponsored by State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-23), called for a published audit of all time and money spent on testing, as well as a toolkit to be made available for rank-and-file members to conduct Testing Cost Audit in their own districts.  Earlier that July, New Business Item 82 which had similar language to AFT Resolution 5, passed in the National Education Association Representative Assembly as a grassroots collaborative effort sponsored by educators from New Mexico, Vermont, Washington, and Virginia delegations.  However, in AFT, while the amendment language of AFT Resolution 5 did not pass from the floor, it was summarily adopted as an amendment to the Exec Councils Anti-testing Resolution (#2) in late summer.  The report and the forth-coming toolkits for union locals are a result of the combined efforts of everyone from union rank-and-file members, to union leadership and staff.  This is member-driven unionism.*

The author of the study, F. Howard Nelson, Ph. D. also conducted a workshop around how to model the methodology for studying testing in members’ own districts.  Much of the  information for an Testing Audit is obtainable through disctricts’ public documents including included utilizing assessment inventories and testing calendars, as well as district budgets.  The tools created by Nelson are reproducible, to be put in an AFT Solution-Driven Unionism toolkit for locals planned for 2014, but members are encouraged to change and study what makes sense for their own contexts.  There are already some locals who have started to develop tools, including NYSUT’s web-resource Truth About Testing campaign, and Chicago’s More Than a Score coalition.  And organizations such as PUREparents have been advocating for testing transparency for years.

Workshop participants expressed interest in conducting the study in their own districts but noted that the study tools presented fell short of measuring all the conditions of over-testing that negatively impact instructional time for students.  The tools differentiate between standardized tests that are mandated by states, those that are mandated by local districts, and other “interim” (practice) assessments and benchmark tests.  Dr. Nelson acknowledged that while there was alot of information very accessible, there was “most likely, tests that districts give that aren’t even in [the study].”

Participants brainstormed a variety of other Testing Audit components they would want to identify for their districts such as the time loss due to testing of specialized populations including students with disabilities and English Language Learners, and the costs and time loss associated with the administration of “field testing,” exam questions, the practice of requiring students to take practice tests before the test-publishing company produces the mandated exam for that year.

The “Testing More, Teaching Less” study has a number of recommendations, including calling for a moratorium on high-stakes associated with testing, streamlining testing with teacher input, and eliminating benchmark and interim testing, but it also identifies the states’ adoption of Common Core “next generation” assessments as a way to mandate the “elimination of all duplicative out-of-date state assessments.”  However, education stake-holders and decision-makers must weigh that alongside the current push-back against the Common Core from educators and legislators who see the Common Core as both narrowing the curricula and an over-reach of corporate ed-reform interests (Liberal viewpoint) and Federal government (Conservative viewpoint) as well as the announcement yesterday that the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the Common Core Assessment producers will be doubling the cost of their tests for many participating states.

In any event, this is an opportunity for rank-and-file members to do ground-breaking, locally- and nationally-relevant research that can inform stakeholders – teacher, parents, students, policy-makers, and legislators – about the the schools we currently have, so that we can organize power - people and money- to fight for the schools we need and deserve.  This study and toolkit created to promote transparency in testing and test-prep is one of the necessary elements needed if we are to reclaim the promise of providing all public school students in America the opportunity for a high-quality, well-rounded and rich education experience.

*Special thanks go to Senator Michael Sanchez (D-29) and Elaine Romero, the New Mexico Education Association, the Washington Education Association and Julianna Dauble of Renton, WA, the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN) caucus including Steve Owens and Rick Baumgartner, and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) including Xian Barrett, George Schmidt, and Sharon Schmidt. (2012) I would also like to thank F. Howard Nelson and Ed Muir of the American Federation of Teachers, as well as the Executive Council of AFT and especially AFT President Randi Weingarten and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Jennings Lewis.

Breaking News: New Group to Oppose Corporate Reforms

Its about time we sponsor our own.

Breaking News: New Group to Oppose Corporate Reforms.