Category Archives: Teaching and Learning

Chicago Teachers Union Rejects Common Core Standards

…and all the testing that comes with it.

Below is the Press release from the Chicago Teachers Union.   Proud of all the hard work we put into this over the past couple of years.  Especially the work done by @msgunderson, @PhillipCantor @XianB8 @AnthonyCody. @Sarah4Justice (Chambers).

See y’all at AFT in July.  Anyone want to hit up NEA in Denver on the way out?

2012 Suzuki C50T, my other ride is my father's Honda CB750...needs work but pictures to come!

2012 Suzuki C50T, my other ride is my father’s Honda CB750…needs work but pictures to come!

Chicago Teachers Union joins growing national opposition to deeply flawed Common Core Standards


CHICAGO – Today, members of the House of Delegates (HOD) of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) passed the following resolution that enjoins the city’s educators to growing national opposition to the Common Core State Standards, saying the assessments disrupt student learning and consume tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration.

Now that the resolution has passed, the CTU will lobby the Illinois Board of Education to eliminate the use of the Common Core for teaching and assessment; and be it further and will work to organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to the law that increases the expansion of nationwide controls over educational issues.

Common Core’s origins can be traced to the 2009 Stimulus Bill which gave $4.35 billion to the federal Department of Education which created the “Race to the Top” competition between states. In order to qualify for funding, the states needed to adopt Common Core  with the added incentive that participating states would be exempted from many of the more onerous provisions of George Bush’s “No child left behind” program.

“I agree with educators and parents from across the country, the Common Core mandate represents an overreach of federal power into personal privacy as well as into state educational autonomy,” said CTU President Karen Lewis, a nationally board certified teacher.  “Common Core eliminates creativity in the classroom and impedes collaboration. We also know that high-stakes standardized testing is designed to rank and sort our children and it contributes significantly to racial discrimination and the achievement gap among students in America’s schools.”

The official text of the resolution follows:

Resolution to Oppose the Common Core State Standards

WHEREAS, the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to lead good and purpose-filled lives, not solely preparation for college and career; and

WHEREAS, instructional and curricular decisions should be in the hands of classroom professionals who understand the context and interests of their students; and

WHEREAS, the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice; and

WHEREAS, high quality education requires adequate resources to provide a rich and varied course of instruction, individual and small group attention, and wrap-around services for students; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards were developed by non-practitioners, such as test and curriculum publishers, as well as education reform foundations, such as the Gates and Broad Foundations, and as a result the CCSS better reflect the interests and priorities of corporate education reformers than the best interests and priorities of teachers and students; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards were piloted incorrectly, have been implemented too quickly, and as a result have produced numerous developmentally inappropriate expectations that do not reflect the learning needs of many students; and

WHEREAS, imposition of the Common Core State Standards adversely impacts students of highest need, including students of color, impoverished students, English language learners, and students with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards emphasize pedagogical techniques, such as close reading, out of proportion to the actual value of these methods – and as a result distort instruction and remove instructional materials from their social context; and

WHEREAS, despite the efforts of our union to provide support to teachers, the significant time, effort, and expense associated with modifying curricula to the Common Core State Standards interferes and takes resources away from work developing appropriate and engaging courses of study; and

WHEREAS, the assessments that accompany the Common Core State Standards (PARCC and Smarter Balance) are not transparent in that –teachers and parents are not allowed to view the tests and item analysis will likely not be made available given the nature of computer adaptive tests; and

WHEREAS, Common Core assessments disrupt student learning, consuming tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration; and

WHEREAS, the assessment practices that accompany Common Core State Standards – including the political manipulation of test scores – are used as justification to label and close schools, fail students, and evaluate educators; therefore be it

RESOLVED that the Chicago Teachers Union opposes the Common Core State Standards (and the aligned tests) as a framework for teaching and learning; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union advocates for an engaged and socially relevant curriculum that is student-based and supported by research, as well as for supports such as those described in the Chicago Teachers Union report, The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will embark on internal discussions to educate and seek feedback from members regarding the Common Core and its impact on our students; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will lobby the Illinois Board of Education to eliminate the use of the Common Core State Standards for teaching and assessment; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to the Common Core State Standards; and be it further

RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Illinois State Board of Education, the Chicago Board of Education, the Governor of Illinois, and all members of the Illinois legislative branch; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that should this resolution be passed by the CTU House of Delegates, an appropriate version will be submitted to the American Federation of Teachers for consideration at the 2014 Convention.

CTU House of Delegates: Please Reject the Fact-finder’s Decision

Unfortunately I will be missing the House of Delegates meeting tomorrow, but I want to encourage delegates to who will be there to vote to reject the offer.  I applaud Arbitrator Benn and Vice-President Sharkey for all their hard work. Benn’s determination on compensation seems quite fair.  However, I would still vote no because what we are fighting for at this moment in time is more than just fair compensation.

As you all know, Arbitrator Benn cannot rule on school conditions, and it is for this reason that we must reject the offer. We deserve fair compensation and great teaching and learning conditions for ourselves, our colleagues, and our students.

We must continue to negotaiate for a school day that is filled with the arts and PE, and fight against the testing-culture that has made our schools more like prisons.  We must continue to stay at the table on behalf of our support staff: PSRPS, clinicians, nurses, psychologists, and social workers; all the people that help make our schools functional and healthy places to come to day-in and day-out.  We must continue to negotiate because all those who have been fired illegaly deserve a recall.

We must continue to negotiate because the whole nation, yes, the whole world is hoping we don’t trade in our ethics for a pittance.  It’s a pittance we will get if we stay negotiating, but educators and students deserve so much more.

Please reject the Fact-finder’s Decision.

You can watch the CTU Press Conference on the Fact finding here:

Spreading the word about United Opt-Out

As I passed through Eaton, OH, I met Mary who runs a health foods store just outside of town.  She let me fill my water from her tap, and I got to chatting with her over a luna bar and sweet tea.  When she found out I was a teacher and headed to DC for NEA, she felt compelled to tell me how testing is just the worst thing in education right now.

I told her about the United Opt-Out campaign, and she was very excited to spread the word among her friends and family.  So I gave her a CORE button for her teacher friends, and a Parents4Teachers button for herself.

That’s all it takes to organize people.  See you in DC tomorrow.  And if you’re headed to Eaton, OH, please support Mary’s business.

The Strength of our CTU Leaders comes from our Members, Parents, and Students of Chicago Public Schools

Educators across the country are following  what’s happening in Chicago to see how we are leading the way against corporate-style education reform that hurts and disempowers the students and teachers in the classroom, the curriculum of our neighborhood schools, and the local leadership of parents and taxpayers for a rich public education system.

We are Ground Zero for the national fight on a dignified public education system  for the United States of America.  I am proud to be a member of the Chicago Teachers Union, and am committed to doing whatever is necessary: bargaining, negotiating, door-knocking, and yes, striking, if it means we have better teaching conditions, and better learning conditions for the city of Chicago.


Yesterday I launched the Use Your Teacher Voice campaign.  At this juncture it is solely a YouTube campaign.  The goal is to have a viral video campaign of teachers talking into a camera in an effort to reclaim what has been lost: our authority in our vocation.
When teachers need the attention of the students; when we claim our authority in the classroom, we use our teacher voice.  We all know what it sounds like: it’s not threatening, but it is declarative.  It’s not hostile, but it does warn.  Teachers are good at this in the classroom, but it is time we use our teacher voice outside the classroom, and direct at those who say we don’t deserve our teacher voice, or that our teacher voice has become unnecessary.
In some cases, our authority, our teacher identity has been taken away or stolen from us. In others cases we just haven’t capitalized on the opportunities to say what we love about teaching and what we believe needs to change in ways that are best for teaching and learning.
The video you post to UseYourTeacherVoice is yours.  You may speak on any edu-topic of your choosing.  UYTV does not have a political stance past encouraging you to reclaim your stance.  I do expect some common themes to crop up, and if you wish to, feel free to speak on any or all of these topics: high-stakes testing, equitable funding, public schools, classroom size, teacher evaluations, decision-making, curriculum and instruction, education reform, etc. Perhaps you start your video with a quote and take it from there.
I only ask that you keep your speech dignified, and around :30 seconds in length.  Individual teachers in different states of the Union and different stages of their careers need to also consider how they can best speak without putting their employment, school, colleagues or students in jeopardy.
This is your voice and it reflects on you, not the campaign.

How to Use Your Teacher Voice:
1) Make a short video on a subject you wish to speak on
2) Post the video to YouTube
3) Tag the video UseYourTeacherVoice
4) Pass it on to others.
(It is not necessary, but will help with “virality” if you email your video link to, or subscribe to the UseYourTeacherVoice YouTube channel.)
It’s time to stop letting others speak in our place.  It’s time for us to say what we know, in ways that we can, for reasons we must: our students, our schools, our curricula, ourselves.  In the words of Educator and poet Taylor Mali:
Speak with Conviction: say what you believe in in a manner that bespeaks the determination with which you believe it.”
I entreat you, I implore you, and I challenge you to Use Your Teacher Voice.
Twitter: @UseYrTcherVoice, #UseYourTeacherVoice
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Teaching and Learning will still Suffer Despite Proposed “Flexibility” in NCLB

Since I have started teaching, I always welcome the first day of the year.  I never sleep the night before, but it is not an anxious time, it is an exciting time. I am even a little jealous of Track E teachers that get to start a month earlier than I.

The anxiety doesn’t come in September, but it usually begins in January, and that doesn’t have to do with the end of winter break, but rather a beginning of the “Testing Season.”  Testing Season, formerly known as “spring,” is the time of the year when all the really valuable learning that had been going on through December is then set aside for preparing students to take  high stakes exams.  These tests tests do not inform instruction – we do not see results until the following autumn- they only serve to incorrectly label what students in a certain zip-code cannot do.

It is a time-wasting disjuncture of the school year calendar that tells us nothing about what our students really know and really can do.  Teachers know this; students and parents know this.  However, it seems that the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan still doesn’t get it.

When Duncan announced that he will allow states to “waive” their No Child Left Behind requirements, I held my breath for the ball to drop.  Could it be?  The end of high-stakes testing?  The end of labeling our children and public schools as “failures?”

I don’t have much lung capacity, and actually, I didn’t have to hold my breath too long because a couple of paragraphs into the New York Times report I read that the only states that will get the waiver will be those states that have in put in place Race to the Top “accountability initiatives.”  Ah, Secretary Duncan, you never cease to disappoint my disappointment in you.  States are being let “off the hook” of a bad policy, just to be traded for a different bad policy that has negative effects on teaching and learning.”

For the better part of 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been decrying that Congress must re-authorize an “improved” version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) before the school year starts in August/September.   This past spring the National School Board Association prepared an excellent summary outlining the finer points of the Re-authorization of ESEA.

But Congress never got to meet about NCLB since so much time was sucked up by the “Financial Crisis of 2011,” leaving Secretary Duncan to make an unprecedented and unilateral decision to allow states to “opt-out” of NCLB requirements, the major one being that “100% of schools need to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) by 2014,” if they implement education reforms to be announced in detail next month.

Everyone in the education world, Duncan included, is in agreement that achieving the goal set in motion in 2000 by President Bush is ridiculous at this point, and has been in many ways more damaging for students, schools and communities than it has been helpful.  Excellent schools across the nation are routinely labeled, “failing,” or put on “probation,” for not making improvements on high-stakes tests.  The Center on Education Policy reported in May that Adequate Yearly Progress made by schools was the lowest ever, with nearly 39% of all United States schools “failing,” and they report that the number is probably higher considering many states have changed their testing requirement since 2005.

Where the general public once did not have language to describe what was wrong with education in the United States, we now have labeled and categorized our children, and punished our public schools into education reform that resembles a scene from The Office.  We now use words like to “Accountability” and “Performance” to describe teaching and learning rather than words like “teaching” and “learning.”

In waiving out of NCLB, states will not waive out of accountability, according to Duncan.  The high-stakes testing craze created in response to the NCLB Act provided Americans with the evidence (“data”) for why reform needs to happen, but Duncan’s Race to the Top (RttT) federal incentive program, modeled after Chicago’s own Renaissance 2010 gave us the “how to” guide for  reforming education: give states money for implementing certain kinds of reforms- tying teacher evaluations to test scores, turning around low-performing schools, lifting restrictions on charter school proliferation, and adopting the Common Core State Standards, approved by (most of the United States’ governors).  Duncan is leaving these requirements for states intact, and in fact in the 2009 and 2010, forty states and Washington D.C. legislated versions of these changes in an effort to win some of the $4 billion plus Edu-money.  Hence the term, Race.

Though Illinois did not win one of the RttT grants in 2010 the General Assembly has lifted some restrictions on charter school proliferation, and is in the process of re-vamping teacher evaluations in the as-yet created Performance Evaluation Reform Act of 201o.  Illinois Senate Bill 7, made infamous across the nation by Stand for Children‘s Jonah Edelman’s anti-teacher union rant, enacted sweeping reforms in Chicago allowing the Mayor of Chicago to have even further control over lengthening the school day length and increasing class size.  Illinois might as well apply for the waiver, what have we to lose that we haven’t already?

The problem is that these kinds of reforms do not work to make schools better places to teach or learn.  We have seen across the nation that merit-pay for teachers based on their student performance on tests does not improve teacher morale and often leads to cheating on high-stakes tests.  Schools that get  “turned-around,” or  “charterized,” most often do no better and in some cases do worse than their public school counterparts in the same communities.

Educators and public schooling advocates, including Jonathon Kozol, Matt Damon, Diane Ravitch and Gloria Ladson-Billings among others gathered last week under the banner of Save Our Schools March with demands to end No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top policies, not to reform it.  “NCLB operates from a deficit learning model,” says Paul Gorski, founder of EdChange, “we can no more achieve justice by reforming NCLB.”  It’s time we invest in education reform that benefits teaching and learning.

Teachers need professional development that helps us develop curricula responsive to our students’ diverse needs.  We need principals who are instructional leaders, not just building managers.  We need full and equitable, no-strings-attached funding for all public schools.

The only real reform will come about when all schools are great places to teach and learn, and not test-factories.  Teachers know this; parents and students know this.   I just don’t think Duncan gets it.

Test Anxiety and the Zen of Motorcycle Riding

Since 2009 I have spent my summers riding an orange and cream colored scooter round Chicago.  She purred and zipped and zoomed and so was dubbed “Sneaky Cheetah.”

Alas, she didn’t make it to her third July 4th and so I took it upon myself to trade the Sneaky Cheetah for a cool looking motorcycle, which I got from a buddy of mine.   The motorcycle, however, is an animal of a different nature, as scooters don’t have a clutch, or a shifter, and for the Sneaky Cheetah, I didn’t even need the special “M” Class license in Illinois to ride it.   I decided I needed to take a motorcycle riding course.

I took the course this past week. We were six students and one instructor over two days: In the morning we were in a classroom learning bike basics and road safety, and both afternoons were spent “in the field” learning how to operate a motorcycle.  On the third morning there was the “M class” licensing test, to be administered, my instructor announced, by an official of the State of Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles.

Taking the test was not mandatory to successfully complete the course, which on its own can secure a lower insurance rate for your motorcycle, but to legally ride on streets in Illinois, a rider needs the license, and to get the license, one must pass this exam.  My motorcycle riding  instructor, who is a high school English teacher nine months out of the year, noted that we shouldn’t worry about the test, “While we cannot guarantee you will pass the test,” he said, “everything we do in the class will teach you how to be a good, safe motorcycle rider, and so the test should be no problem.”

Easy for him to say, he didn’t have to take it the next morning.

I cannot remember the last time I had so much anxiety about an exam.  Racing through my head were the looming “what-if’s” of failure: what if I fixate on a cone too long and hit it, or brake during my swerve, or god-forbid stall the engine which I hadn’t done in the entire training?!  Any of which would mean a combination of accumulated points, and if I racked up eleven of them, so long, “M” class license.

“Relax, relax, you’ll do fine. Don’t worry,” my classmates all said, but their encouragement didn’t allay my fears.  In the hands of a thin older man with an official DMV badge, whom I had never seen before that morning, was a clipboard and a piece of paper, and he was going to determine whether or not my summer was going to be awesome.

The whole experience was very humbling in the realization that this is how my students must feel so very often.  I had forgotten what it was like to be a student, and to feel stressed over such a high-stakes exam.  How hard is it for students to concentrate on the really important things in learning when they are so worried about upcoming exams?

There’s were a couple things going on in the dynamics of this motorcycle test that I think apply to my teaching craft.  I asked myself:

1)  Is the person assessing me is an expert or authority in what I want to know?

2) Can the assessment accurately show what I can or cannot do today and what I know?

I can give a student a test on any given day, but it is only a snap-shot of their knowledge.  If that student comes up to me and says, “Mr. H., I am going to do bad on this test today because of X, or Y,” I need to make the professional judgment in deciding whether or not this student should get another chance to show me what they know.  Depending on the situation, and sometimes the student, she or he may get another shot.  These are decisions I make as a teacher because I know how the assessment matches the curriculum I teach, and because I know how my students learn it.

However, an institution such as the motorcycle school isn’t responsible for my success on the riding test, just like they are not responsible if I crash my motorcycle. Their school cannot be punished and their curriculum isn’t in jeopardy if I do not pass the exam. Yet high schools and teachers are held responsible by our districts, and federal and state laws if our students do not do well on standardized tests. Curricular decisions and school policies are being made irresponsibly by non-educators who claim they know what students do not know, because there is money at stake.

Since the year I got the Sneaky Cheetah, states’ legislators have been scrambling in competition, and promising the moon in sweeping education reforms in response to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan dangling the Race to the Top carrot of federal edu-dollars.
They look at tests and call it “data.” Data can inform decisions, but should not drive it. By tying test scores to school funding, we are devaluing the learning that takes place.

If the motorcycle riding school were to change their priorities so that more students passed the test students would be less prepared for life-long riding, and we could expect more accidents on the roadway.

But I did pass the IL Motorcycle Riding Exam. Woo-hoo!

That test didn’t teach me to ride.  It was an experienced instructor with a small group of students and a scaffolded, high-quality curriculum.  If schools can provide those three things than none of use should worry about the tests, and everyone can have an awesome summer.

Save Our Schools March coming up soon!

Hello July; Here we come D.C. –

The Save Our Schools March is right around the corner, and the schedule looks amazing!  Educators from around the country will descend upon our capitol from July 28th-July 31st, in an effort to reclaim our status as the professionals in the public school classroom.  Ralliers are demanding an end to high-stakes testing, equitable funding for all schools, and  local decision-making when it comes to curriculum.

The event includes a conference on Thurs and Friday, July 28th and 29th, a March starting at the Ellipse on Saturday, July 30th at noon, and an Follow-up Congress on Sunday morning.  Planned speakers include Jonathon Kozol, Diane Ravitch, Deborah Meier, Pedro Noguera, Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, and yes, even Matt Damon.

Are you attending?  What are you looking forward to?  What would you like to see come out of this?

You can register for the events here, if you haven’t already.

(On a side note, if anyone wants to car-pool from Chicago-land, please email me directly.)

On my Bookshelf: Three Recommended Readings on Schooling, Creativity, and Dignity.

Happy unofficial beginning to summer 2011 from steamy Chicago!  I think I have read more in this past school year, than in any of my previous years as a teacher. But with summer, comes new opportunities for rejuvenation through literature, and I hope to get some recommendations in the comments below.   In turn, I recommend the following three books for summer reading:

For a better education system: The Death and Life fo the Great American School: How Testing a Choice are Undermining America (Diane Ravitch)

For a better understanding of ourselves: The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D)

For a better, stronger, community: Dynamics of Organizing: Building Power by Developing the Human Spirit (Shel Trapp)

If the above titles are any indication, I am not much for fiction reading, yet all three authors are vivid story-tellers in their own right and keep the readers attention as they intertwine personal story with global relevance. I leave the praise and scorn to the paid literary critics, but provide a little taste below as to why each of these books has influenced my daily life.

Much has already been said about Ravitch’s book.  She has become the new champion of educators in the classroom, touring the country and tweeting voraciously about the cultural hoax of high-stakes testing and corporate-style reform.  I learned from her book how we got to where we are now: how the educational standards movement in the 1980s and 90s was more-or-less high-jacked by a high-stakes Testing initiative spearheaded by publishing companies.

Smartly, she makes no apologies for being a part of that history, but rather she admits she made mistakes, and decidedly charts a new course, from where, in my opinion, Robinson starts his book.

The Element has been the book this year that I have quoted most to my friends, colleagues and students.  It is a story (not an instruction manual) of creativity and value.  Personal and societal value.  The premise is that 1) we need to value creativity in society 2) there are infinite ways to be creative and 3) we need to change schooling and learning to reflect the diversity of the learning process.

In many ways,The Element is a (hilarious) counterpart to Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s Flow (1990), the seminal book based on his research on Optimal Experience, the state of attention and motivation that makes us most happy, or  in a state of flow.  According to Robinson, it is a point at which we can all achieve.

While the first two authors are quite prolific in the mainstream and internet media, Trapp is a much less known name, but a man whose works have directly and indirectly influenced thousands across Chicago and the United States.  Trapp, one of the founders of the National Training and Information Center reflects on how his work in building coalitions in Chicago had helped individuals to create real, tangible changes, and build- less tangible but equally real and infinitely more important – dignity in those with whom he organized.

As I have become more in tune with the politics of organizing and teaching in Chicago, it is Trapp’s story that has had the largest emotional impact on my work.  I should be asking myself: Is what I am doing, helping to build dignity in __X__ ?  If I am not helping to build dignity in my students, their families, my colleagues, my building, or myself, I need to be rethinking how and why I am undertaking a task.

So I look forward to shared recommendations, and I wish all a reflective, rejuvenating summer.  Stay tuned, as I will be blogging through the heat.