My Letter to the Seattle School Board about Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson (via Seattle Education 2010)Posted: February 27, 2011
In Pennsylvania we don’t celebrate March Madness. Instead we practice it. – Timothy D. Slekar #HuffPoPosted: February 27, 2011
“I’m inviting you to join a real conspiracy, call it an open conspiracy, with real consequences on millions of real lives. I know that sounds megalomaniacal, but be patient. If we pull this off, a great many will bless us, although the school industry few will curse us. This is about a project to destroy the standardized testing industry… This adventure is called ‘The Bartleby Project.'” John Taylor Gatto. (Weapons of Mass Instruction, New Society Publishers 2008)
My 11-year-old son loves the show Myth Busters. From the first time he put two Legos together he was hooked on constructing intricate things (200 piece Bionicles at age 5). He creates Rube Goldberg contraptions and loves animals. He can manipulate through different technologies (Google Earth, iPad, iPod, Facebook, Sims, etc) and he doesn’t need instructions because his curiosity enables him to navigate and learn new technologies. He also loves football. He watches the NFL channel around the clock and can give you just about any statistic related to the game or players. This is just a snapshot. A quick glimpse of my son outside the insidious institution we call public schooling today.
I am currently thinking hard about asking my son to participate in the Bartleby Project and to write “I prefer not to take your test” across the top of his state test in March. In Pennsylvania we don’t celebrate March Madness. Instead we practice it. March is the month when Pennsylvania schools administer the Pennsylvania State System of Assessments (the PSSAs). The entire school year comes down this one week in March. This is when schools and students across the Keystone State are held accountable. This is the big time. This is what it’s all about.
Is it fair to ask my son to carry out an act of civil disobedience? Should I place this social burden on his shoulders? What will the consequences be? Can he handle the pressure? Should he even have to handle the pressure?
Since late in August, my son has been subjected to a system of indoctrination that has essentially squashed his inner desire to learn — the Ruinous Culture. Five entire months devoid of intellectually-stimulating classroom experiences. He has been forced to complete worksheets in language arts and mathematics. He can alphabetize spelling words and find the main idea of a paragraph. He’s had practice in sequencing. He can round numbers. He can add, subtract, multiply and divide with fractions and decimals. And he has mastered the scripted art of estimating (Who knew there were incorrect estimates?). He has had multiple PSSA practice tests and according to these tests my son is ready. He has been trained for five months to produce scores that will help his school achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). I’m sure his school is counting on him.
But what has been lost during these past five months? He sits in social studies and science classes that have been shortened to allow more time for reading and math instruction. He hasn’t been given the opportunity to engage real children’s literature. His reading teacher is clueless about his interests. Five months of drudgery. How much can he take before just the thought of going to school immobilizes him? There is real damage being done. Something has to happen before my son loses all curiosity.
As his father, I need to advocate for him. But I don’t want to just go in and take him out of school. I want him to learn something. I want him to experience real opportunities to learn in school. I want him to learn about the courage needed to change social structures that are designed to ultimately guarantee mass failure. Maybe he will be the start of a movement. As Gatto said in 2008:
“No demonstrations, no mud-slinging, no adversarial politics… [just] peacefully refuse to take standardized tests.”
This is the perfect opportunity for my son to learn about social justice. He has a chance to fully participate in the democratic life we are supposedly striving to instill in children. But why does he have to do it? Because, as Gatto said:
“Adults chained to institutions and corporations are unable to; because these tests pervert education, are disgracefully inaccurate, impose brutal stresses without reason, and actively encourage a class system which is poisoning the future of the nation.”
Is he capable of sitting down at his desk during March Madness and simply writing, “My name is Luke and I refuse to take your test?” Will this be the start of something? I’m sure it will start something, however, I’m not sure what. Luke may be on the verge of becoming a hero. His classmates may cheer him and go home to tell their parents that they want to “be like Luke.” Or, it may begin the process of social blackballing. Would it be bad if either of these outcomes materialized? What should we do?
Richard Whitmire’s biography of Michelle Rhee, The Bee Eater, is the story of a “bunch of Teach for America (TFA) rebels with ABSOLUTELY NO EXPERIENCE running a school district.” (Emphasis is Whitmire’s.) Though generally worshipful of Rhee, Whitmire agreed that she WAS RUTHLESS and ARROGANTLY CLAIMED THAT ONLY SHE PUT KIDS FIRST. (Emphasis is Whitmire’s.) Rhee was rude, saying “I will cut you off if you’re not making sense or it’s not a good use of my time.” In other words, “Michelle is someone who will tell you you’re wrong and then poke her finger in your eye to make sure you know you’re wrong.”
Rhee and her young followers “saw INCREMENTALISM as a curse word. (Emphasis is Whitmire’s.) Her biographer, however, is equally dogmatic. His “antidote to the failures of urban education” is teachers with “SNAP,” or “a certain quick twitch in their bodies, an urgency in their voices, and a devotion to pursuing a measurable end goal.” It does not seem to occur to Whitmire or Rhee that better results could be produced by educators with a quick twitch and urgency, who had learned through experience when to slow down, tell a joke, defuse intense situations, and to treat everyone with respect.
These reformers’ fatal flaw was revealed by their ridicule of former Superintendent Clifford Janey for claiming that teachers contribute only about 13 percent to the average child’s academic progress. Rhee needed someone in her inner circle to remind them of the large body of social science that confirms Janey’s statement. They also needed reminders to not get carried away and believe their own public relations spin. Whitmire, for instance, claims that Rhee “accomplished the unimaginable” by moving NAEP scores significantly upward. In fact, the progress of black 4th graders’ reading slowed under Rhee, as the growth in black 8th grade reading scores was reversed. Low-income and black 8th graders saw declines of two and three points between 2007 and 2009. Under Janey, increases in NAEP Reading scores were greater, and more equally distributed. Under Rhee, gentrification seems like the best explanation for her modest improvements.
Had Rhee considered the wisdom of Janey, she might have invested earlier in preschool for the poorest children. Instead, Whitmire describes how that proven strategy was tried in mixed-race, middle class neighborhoods in an effort to attract more whites in the D.C. schools. Had Rhee’s inner circle included dissenting voices, she might have started fewer unnecessary fights, like the battle over Hardy Middle School or firing her daughter’s principal. “In all these decisions,” reports Whitmire, “Rhee was backed by her top staffers.”
Whitmire clearly despises the union that opposed Rhee, but he makes it sound like teachers only played a supporting role in Rhee’s defeat. Whitmire keeps repeating the warnings to the Korean-American chancellor, such as, “The racial politics are going to be insane. You are going to get slaughtered.” Then he quoted Rhee’s African-American fiancee, Kevin Johnson on why she was rejected by the black community, “If you had to boil it down to one word it would be RESPECT.” (Emphasis was Johnson’s.)
Neither Rhee, nor her followers, are racists (or tools of special interests or conspirators who WANT to condemn poor children of color to scripted instruction. [Emphasis is mine.]) Whitmire especially blames black columnists like Bob Herbert, who supposedly played the race card by condemning her “take-no-prisoners approach” as “disrespectful,” and Courtland Milloy wrote that she, “spit in our faces.” Had the current mayor, Vincent Gray, not been black, would he have been less upset with the string of insults that started at 11 p.m. the night before Rhee was named as chancellor? Whitmire cites Rhee’s offer to John Merrow to film her firing a principal. Does the race, or even the competence, of that person matter in regard to how people are treated ?
Rhee and her followers believe that data-driven accountability is the key to teacher quality and to “reform.” I believe they are wrong. I know, however, that bestowing respect upon all humans beings is the cornerstone of schooling.
Was sent this article today…what isDelaware doing? I know what CSD is doing….we effectively eliminated Zero Tolerance approach last year. It simply doesn’t work.
The Maryland Board of Education asked for a review of policies in the state’s 24 school systems, expressing concern about any existing “zero tolerance” practices and a need for support services for suspended students.
“I want to get some assurance that this never happens in our districts,” said Kate Walsh, a member of Maryland’s State Board of Education who became concerned about the issue after reading an article in Sunday’s Washington Post about Nick Stuban, 15, of Fairfax County. “Every aspect of what happened to that boy in Fairfax County is an abuse of school authority.”
Stuban was out of school for two months – then transferred away from his friends, team and teachers at W.T. Woodson High School – after admitting that he bought one capsule of JWH-018, a synthetic compound with marijuana-like effects. The substance was legal at the time but not allowed at school.
The teen later described his actions as a “really stupid decision.” His parents said that his disciplinary hearing was confrontational and devastating to him and that it lacked due-process protections. As the Stubans have grieved, they have called for policy reforms.
In Virginia, state Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen (D-Fairfax), brought the issue to the floor of the Senate in a speech Tuesday. In a later interview, he said the Fairfax system needs more transparency and parental involvement as well as a greater emphasis on “the best interests of the child.”
Fairfax officials have said on several occasions that the system does not use a “zero-tolerance” approach to discipline and considers each case individually.
Said Petersen: “I respectfully disagree. I think there tends to be a zero-tolerance mentality that threatens the reputation of the school system.”
Petersen, a lawyer, said he has been to several school disciplinary hearings in recent years.
The process, he said, is “a kind of prosecutorial system without any of the safeguards you would expect from that kind of system.”
Some Fairfax parents and activists said they planned to bring their concerns to a School Board forum that will consider discipline policies and other issues. It is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church.
In Maryland, the board asked State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick at a meeting Tuesday to discuss the case with local superintendents at their next monthly meeting to ensure that “they all do soul-searching on this front to make sure this couldn’t be repeated,” as Walsh put it.
Of concern, she said, was Stuban’s transfer to another high school and what she called an “overreaction . . .. a lack of common sense.” She took issue with lengthy periods out of school. “The time out of school only aggravates the situation, and in the case of this boy, it created a whole new range of problems,” she said.
Barbara M. Hunter, assistant superintendent for communications and community outreach in Fairfax, said the district was not aware of Maryland’s action and could not comment.
The Virginia Board of Education has not discussed the matter and generally leaves the implementation of disciplinary policies up to local school districts, board Vice President David M. Foster said.
Foster said state law requires zero tolerance for having such items as firearms and controlled and imitation controlled substances on school grounds, but he said that “precise disciplinary action taken is left largely to the local boards,” as are the procedures used by any district.
By RYAN J. FOLEY, Associated Press Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press – 1 hr 37 mins ago
MADISON, Wis. – On a prank call that quickly spread across the Internet, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was duped into discussing his strategy to cripple public employee unions, promising never to give in and joking that he would use a baseball bat in his office to go after political opponents.
Walker believed the caller was a conservative billionaire named David Koch, but it was actually a liberal blogger. The two talked for at least 20 minutes — a conversation in which the governor described several potential ways to pressure Democrats to return to the Statehouse and revealed that his supporters had considered secretly planting people in pro-union protest crowds to stir up trouble.
[Related: Largest labor unions in the U.S.]
The call also revealed Walker’s cozy relationship with two billionaire brothers who have poured millions of dollars into conservative political causes, including Walker’s campaign last year.
Walker compared his stand to that taken by President Ronald Reagan when he fired the nation’s air-traffic controllers during a labor dispute in 1981.
“That was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and led to the fall of the Soviets,” Walker said on the recording.