Check Your Wallet! You Too Can Be An Expert on Teacher Tenure!


It is IMPOSSIBLE to fire a bad teacher.

Unless of course you document how that teacher is bad.

You know? Due process. Rights. All that liberal bullshit.

Thank goodness we have tech millionaires to stand up for the rights of totalitarians everywhere!

A slew of Microsoft wannabes is taking up the mantle of the bored rich to once again attack teacher tenure.

They claim it’s almost impossible to fire bad teachers because of worker’s rights.

You know who actually is impossible to fire!? Self-appointed policy experts!

No one hired them to govern our public schools. In fact, they have zero background in education. But they have oodles of cash and insufferable ennui. Somehow that makes them experts!

I wonder why no one wants to hear my pet theories on how we should organize computer systems and pay programmers. Somehow the change in my pocket doesn’t qualify me to make policy at IBM, Apple or Microsoft. Strange!

But that doesn’t stop millionaires and billionaires with nothing better to do than try to increase their already skyrocketing profits.

It’s disgusting. They’re nothing but wealth addicts looking for a new score by stealing whatever crumbs have fallen to the floor that the rest of us need just to survive.

Time Magazine, which decided to put this non-story on the cover for Nov. 3, should be ashamed. But something tells me the editors could care less about things like facts, truth, integrity…

These are the same folks, after all, who propelled Michelle Rhee to fame on their infamous cover with the then-DC-schools chief holding a broom to sweep out all the bad teachers. Oh! That worked out so well! Cheating scandals, anyone!?

But instead of any apology or retraction for their faulty journalism, one can imagine the following conversation at Time’s last editorial meeting:

Editor 1: I’ve got a great idea for the cover! How about a bunch of know-nothing idle rich talking out of their asses!?

Editor 2: Brilliant!

I know I’m just a teacher and I don’t have millions in the bank, a bulging wallet or even a platinum credit card – but let me try to draw on my poor more-than-a-decade of experience in the classroom to explain.

1) Tenure does not mean a job for life. It just means you have to follow due process before firing a teacher. Many other jobs have similar due process rights for their workers that they don’t call tenure. Unfortunately that leads to the belief that teacher tenure is special or unique. It isn’t.

2) Teachers are Evaluated Based on Student Test Scores. This is ridiculously inaccurate and unfair. Standardized tests do NOT effectively measure student learning. They measure family income. So teachers who have richer students have generally more favorable evaluations than those who teach the poorest and most difficult children. Value-Added Measures, as these are often called, have been labeled junk science by national statistical organizations. They violate a basic principle of the field that you cannot use a test designed to evaluate one factor as a way to evaluate an entirely different factor. Removing due process would make the teachers who serve the most at-risk students, themselves, unfairly at risk of losing their jobs.

3) Firing the “least effective” teachers doesn’t improve education.
I know this goes against common sense, but facts are facts. If you fire someone, you have to find a replacement. Ideally, you want a replacement who will do a better job than the person being removed. However, this is incredibly difficult and expensive. Half of teachers who enter the field leave in 5 years. It’s a tough job that many people just can’t handle. Moreover, it takes a long time to get good at it. A much more cost-effective approach is providing high-quality professional development. You can’t fire yourself to the top. Yes, if a teacher has no interest and doesn’t improve after multiple attempts to help, then it may be best for that person to seek employment elsewhere. But it’s not step 1!

4) Tenure Protects the Most Experienced Teachers. Without it, veteran teachers could not compete with new hires who enter the field at a lower salary. In the long run, it costs less to keep and train veteran teachers than hire new ones. But administrators and school directors often only see short-term gain. Without due process, veterans would be in danger of unfair firing to increase the short-term bottom line. This would reduce the quality of education kids receive because they’d be denied a wealth of experience and talent. Moreover, who would enter a field that only values new hires? There’s no future in such a job and it would just be a repository for a series of temps with no other choice than to teach for a few years before moving on. Teach for America, anyone?

5) Tenure Allows Teachers to Innovate. With due process, teachers can more easily make decisions based on what’s best for their students and not what’s politically acceptable. They don’t have to give the school board director’s son an A just because of his patronage. Kids actually have to earn their grades. And if a student doesn’t like a teacher, he can’t destroy the adult’s career by making a baseless accusation.

But to know any of this, one would have to possess some actual information about the field. That takes experience, not big money.

For some reason, the same people who are investing heavily in privatization just can’t see it. The people who champion for-profit charter schools, toxic testing and Common Core can’t wrap their heads around the concept. All they see are dollar signs of public money meant to pay for the public good being diverted into their private bank accounts.

Human suffering? Educational outcomes? Struggling students?

Who gives a shit?

Teachers do. That’s why they’re trying so hard to get rid of us.

This article was also published on Diane Ravich’s blog and the Badass Teachers Association blog.

As a member of the Badass Teachers Association, I subsequently helped craft a response that was published in Time Magazine.

Fight Corporate Education Reform and Meme It!


Sometimes words alone aren’t enough.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re arguing with someone and just not able to get your point across. You know if you could just show them the picture in your brain, they’d understand what you meant with the force of a bullet. But lacking psychic abilities, you’re reduced to the efforts of your poor twisted, tangled tongue.

That’s where memes make all the difference.

A meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” Though originally coined as a term to describe genes, the expression has expanded to encompass anything that can carry ideas from one mind to another with a mimicked theme.

I know that sounds daunting, but you’ve probably seen hundreds or thousands of memes already. At least half of the images on Facebook and Twitter are memes – Grumpy Cat, Condescending Wonka, One Does Not Simply, Conspiracy Keanu and enough facepalms to break your jaw.

As a meme-maker, myself, I’ve been surprised that some of my efforts have taken on lives of their own. By no means am I a master at the art, but a few of my 50 plus memes have been surfing the Internet on their own for a year or more. I’ll go on a nationwide education organization’s Facebook page and see my little meme staring back at me. “Hi, Daddy!”

I leave you with an experiment. Here is a collection of some of my favorite creations. I’ve limited myself here to memes on the subject of education. I’ve also organized them to some degree based on subtopics.

Please feel free to browse. If you see a meme that you like – that helps make your point about the errors of corporate education reform – you have my blessing to take it. Post it on your Facebook page, in a tweet, on Tumbler, whatever you please. Send my little message off again into the great sea of interconnected webs and communication nets. Maybe one day it’ll return to me.

Happy shopping!







































The Monsters on Main Street – The Worst of Pennsylvania’s Political Freak Show

monster pic

Monsters are coming to your door.

You hear them shambling outside, dragging themselves up your front stoop and ringing the bell.

Unaware, you open the door and choke back a scream of disgust at their grotesque faces – enormous elongated smiles under sad clown eyes.

They aren’t wearing Halloween masks. They aren’t trick-or-treaters. They’re a gaggle of local GOP politicians aching to press the flesh!


Sorry, but the idea of these morally bankrupt, mentally challenged, scientifically illiterate Republican lawmakers at the threshold of my own home is enough to make me scream in terror.

But that’s where they’re headed – accompanied by campaign organizers and volunteers – armed with clipboards full of apologies or (more likely) attacks on their political opponents.

It’s almost funny that they even remember us, voters. The whole year long they act as if they have no constituents other than corporate lobbyists and the party line.

Slash funding for public schools? Oh yeah!

Healthcare for women? Not on my dime!

Environmental protections? Drill, Baby, drill!

Voter protections? Naah! Voter Obstructions!

But when election time rolls around, the rhetoric gets muted, and the false smile is duct taped in place. Disgusting!

And what’s worse – they know we’re repulsed. They’re actually overjoyed by it! That’s exactly the effect they’re going for!

It’s a calculated gamble. Instead of filling us with a burning desire to vote for them, they figure their chances for re-election are even better if we don’t show up at all.

An empty polling station is a vote for the status quo.

It’s the same in my home state of Pennsylvania as it is across the country.

Let me tell you; Democracy takes a strong stomach.

In that spirit of intestinal fortitude, I present to you a menagerie of monsters.

Look closely at these twisted public figures all suddenly begging for your vote. Watch as they rage and foam expelling rapacious quantities of gas and bluster – all safely locked behind thick glass for your protection. Of course!

I present for your entertainment and edification “Pennsylvania’s Worst Political Monstrosities: Rancid Republicans on Parade!”

Rick Saccone


In God we trust. For Rick Saccone, that’s not just the national motto – it’s his signature piece of legislation.

The Tea Party Republican authored a bill to force all public schools in the state to paint those words on the front of their buildings. The bill was eventually watered down to merely allow schools to break the Separation of Church and State and not force compliance.

But it didn’t matter. Saccone was trying to make a point.

“Don’t trust the gub’ment,” his smirking face seemed to say. “Put your trust in a higher power.”

As if to prove his point, in 4 years as a lawmaker he slashed almost $1 billion in funding for school children, kicked out supports for the sick and elderly and basically stomped on the poor and needy across the Commonwealth.

I’m no Biblical scholar, but I don’t think the core message of religion is to screw everyone over just to see if The Divine will step in.

Maybe if Saccone spent more time worrying about meeting the needs of the kids in those school buildings instead of just on what’s painted outside them, he wouldn’t have to rely on miracles to do his neglected job!

If that makes you want to vomit, Rick’s got you there, too. His second biggest legislation authorized a state day of fasting. So dry heave away!

The rest of the time, he just let Gov. Tom Corbett and the GOP do his thinking for him. In fact, he voted for Corbett’s initiatives 95% of the time giving him the nickname of Corbett’s “Mini-me.”

His Democratic challenger in the 39th Legislative District is Lisa Stout-Bashioum. You may have seen signs for her candidacy throughout southern Allegheny and northern Washington Counties if they haven’t been mysteriously torn down yet. Strangely, none of Saccone’s signs seem effected. Weird!

Will residents finally give Saccone his walking papers or are they resigned to more toadying and Biblical legislation?

Considering that Saccone only won re-election last time by 114 votes (less than .5% of the total voting in his district), it wouldn’t exactly take a tidal wave to wash him out to sea.

Here’s hoping that his constituents are as fed up with him as the rest of us are. Yuck!

 Daryl Metcalfe


Bigot. Xenophobe. Idiot.

State Representative Daryl Metcalfe is all that and more!

Remember our controversial Voter ID law that tried unsuccessfully to disenfranchise minorities, seniors and college students? As chairman of the powerful House State Government Committee, Metcalfe sponsored the darn thing.

It doesn’t matter that the law was eventually struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. It doesn’t matter that millions were wasted implementing this farce. The eight-term Republican put the blame where he thinks it belongs – on the people of Pennsylvania. He said, “…this judicial activist decision is skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the commonsense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID.”

But let’s not forget Metcalfe’s homophobia. There’s something about gay marriage that just gets him all hot and bothered. Since a federal court struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage, Metcalfe can be seen most weekends on his hands and knees pleading with the governor to appeal the decision. The economy’s tanking. Our environment is being poisoned by frackers. Our schools struggle to function on crumbs. But Metcalfe is working on what’s really important – blocking gay people’s right to equal treatment!

This issue is so important to Metcalfe, he wouldn’t even allow anyone else to voice a dissenting opinion. When State Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay lawmaker in Harrisburg, tried to speak on the house floor in support of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, Metcalfe denied Sims the right to speak. He said Sims’ intended remarks were “in open rebellion against God’s law.” It’s so nice we have such an expert in the house chamber!

One could go on recounting Metcalfe’s backward world view for days (a personal favorite of mine is when he opposed immigration reform as an “illegal alien invasion”) but to make matters worse – he’s also dumb as a brick.

One of his first pieces of legislation in 2001 was to introduce a resolution asking the federal government to fund and deploy a national defense missile system. Daryl, why would state lawmakers debate what the federal government should or should not be doing? The state can’t send soldiers into battle. It can’t declare war on a foreign power. Heck! It can’t even change the color the army paints its tanks. Why would it be in charge of missile defense?

Oh well. Calmer heads prevailed. Republicans passed the measure anyway!

Residents of the 12th Legislative District may have had their fill of these shenanigans. In May, Metcalfe almost lost a write-in campaign to Republican challenger Gordon Marburger. Metcalfe got 54% of the vote vs. 45% for Marburger – an impressive total for a write-in candidate.

Perhaps Democratic challenger Lisa Zucco will finally be able to unseat this blowhard. Residents of this gerrymandered Republican-leaning district will have to decide which they hate more – Democrats or being the laughing stock of the Commonwealth!

Gov. Tom Corbett


Speaking of sick jokes, there’s Tom Corbett – the chief executive of Keystone A-holes.

Wow! One has to wonder how such an incompetent public servant could ever be elected to a post as high as Governor of a populous state like Pennsylvania! It’s almost like electing Gomer Pyle, Screech or… George W. Bush!

In his 4 long, miserable years in office, Corbett has done more damage to the Commonwealth than an invading army. Let’s revisit some of his biggest catastrophic blunders:

Colossal Education Cuts – Larger class sizes in 70% of public schools, 19 districts completely eliminating full-day kindergarten, 56% of schools cutting full-time librarians, cuts to the arts, music and extracurricular activities, not to mention 27,000 teachers out of work.

This kind of catastrophic elimination of services doesn’t just happen – no matter how much Corbett tries to convince voters otherwise.

Corbett presided over the deepest education cuts in the state’s history. Originally, he wanted to slash more than $1.1 billion in school funding.

The Republican-led legislature eventually balked at such a huge sum and instead slashed only $860 million. With little change, these cuts have continued with every budget since, compounding the damage every year. So after three disastrous budgets, our school system is actually down approximately $2.5 billion!

But Corbett isn’t just against little kids getting an education. Like a villain in a slasher movie, he’s also after the frat boys and sorority girls at your local community college. He wanted to cut funding for state-owned and -related colleges by 50% in his first budget; but he settled for a mere 18% chop. Higher education has been flat-funded ever since. That’s why tuition has gone up 7.5%, technology fees have skyrocketed by 50%, not to mention other costs.

What about taxes? Corbett’s biggest campaign promise has always been not raising them. However, when you cut necessary services, the cost usually gets passed on someplace else. For instance, local taxes have increased at 75% of public schools statewide. At the Commonwealth’s colleges, higher tuition and costs were just passed on to the students. So technically Corbett’s right to claim he didn’t raise state taxes. He just made you pay for it elsewhere!

Voter Identification Law – It takes a person with a special depth of stupidity to ignore his own officials time and again. Well, Corbett has the right stuff! His administration officials told him the elderly would be disproportionately affected by the voter identification law (not to mention minorities, women, the poor, etc.) But with the 2012 presidential election coming up, Corbett did it anyway. Anything to get rid of that Bla… I mean “Kenyan Communist” Obama.

The courts, however, were unconvinced since the state couldn’t prove a single instance of voter fraud. If Tommy had had his way, more than 100,000 Pennsylvanians might have been disenfranchised. It remains to be seen if they’ll turn out in November to “thank” him at the polls.

Rejected Medicaid Expansion
Healthcare? You don’t need no stinking healthcare! Until recently Corbett held out on the Republican hissy fit against Obamacare longer than most other far right governors.

He just refused to accept the Medicaid Expansion, an estimated $17 billion in federal funds, leaving Pennsylvanians high and dry, while every bordering state took the free money.

Not only was this decision once again against the recommendations of his aides, it put Corbett to the far right of even Republican governors like John Kasich of Ohio and Chris Christie of New Jersey, who agreed to accept federal dollars for the expansion of Medicaid in their states. Facing dismal re-election polls, Corbett finally caved somewhat and accepted the funds only if he could provide the stingiest benefits in the country. Well, he has to live with himself somehow!

Mandatory Ultrasounds
– There’s something hilarious about a politician who screws over school kids but is so concerned about unborn fetuses. Corbett proudly supported his party’s version of Shariah Law called misleadingly the “Women’s Right to Know” Act. It would require doctors to perform an ultrasound on a patient, offer her two personalized copies of the image and play and describe fetal heartbeat in detail before she can have an abortion. Maybe they should have called it “Women’s Right to be Forced to Know.” Anyway, Corbett made the off-color remark that if a woman feels the measure goes too far “you just have to close your eyes.”

After outraged calls from doctors, the legislature decided to abort any further debate on the measure.


There are so many more catastrophic blunders. Everything from sinking the state’s job creation record from 6th to 47th in the country, the fiscally unsound lottery privatization, ethical fiascos, selling off government positions to his gas company campaign contributors… Oh, Tom, you are such a piece of sh… work.

Corbett is running against York businessman Tom Wolf who is killing the incumbent in the polls. I guess running on the exact opposite of Corbett’s policies is somehow popular. Who knew? Certainly not Corbett!

But “expected voters” and the real thing aren’t always the same. Will Pennsylvania rise up as one to swat this Republican insect from our collective posterior? I sure hope so.

And there you have it, Ladies and Gentlemen! The Monsters of Pennsylvania!

I hope it wasn’t too distressing for the kiddees to see. Just remember these creatures have no power unless you give it to them.

Even in our post-Citizens United age where corporations apparently are people, only YOU have the right to vote.

These slurping, burping, hideous fiends tried to take that away! With flag pins hypocritically shinning on their lapels, they actually tried to stop people from casting a ballot.

And even though they lost, they’re betting that you don’t care. You’d rather shut your eyes tight and wait for them to shamble on by.

If horror movies have taught us anything, it’s this: the person who refuses to hide in the woodshed, the person who stands and fights is the one who makes it out alive.

So wrap your ballot in a clove of garlic, spritz a little holy water on it and shove it down these critters throats.

The secret about any monster is that it’s actually afraid of you!

The Final Straw: Cancel Our Labor Contracts, We Cancel Your Tests


You can’t do that.

All the fear, frustration and mounting rage of public school teachers amounts to that short declarative sentence.

You can’t take away our autonomy in the classroom.

You can’t take away our input into academic decisions.

You can’t take away our job protections and collective bargaining rights.

You can’t do that.

But the state and federal government has repeatedly replied in the affirmative – oh, yes, we can.

For at least two decades, federal and state education policy has been a sometimes slow and incremental chipping away at teachers’ power and authority – or at others a blitzkrieg wiping away decades of long-standing best practices.

The latest and greatest of these has been in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Earlier this week, the state-led School Reform Commission simply refused to continue bargaining with teachers over a new labor agreement. Instead, members unilaterally cancelled Philadelphia teachers contract and dictated their own terms – take them or get out.

The move was made at a meeting called with minimal notice to hide the action from the public. Moreover, the legality of the decision is deeply in doubt. The courts will have to decide if the SRC even has the legal authority to bypass negotiations and impose terms.

One doesn’t have to live or work in the City of Brotherly Love to feel the sting of the state SRC. For many educators across the nation this may be the last straw.

For a long time now, we have watched in stunned silence as all the problems of society are heaped at our feet.

Nearly half of all public school children in the United States live in abject poverty. This is not our fault. We did not pass the laws that allowed this to happen.

We did not crash the economy and then allow the guilty parties to get away Scott free – in most cases to continue the same risky financial practices all over again.

We did not cut funding to programs designed to help the poor – public assistance, childcare, counseling , job placement, etc.

We did not slash state and federal taxes for the wealthiest Americans, corporations and big businesses resulting in less public money to do the jobs we give the government.

We didn’t even get to provide more than the most minimal input into the dominant education policies of the land. School Choice, No Child Left Behind, Common Core, Race to the Top – those were written and enacted by bureaucrats, politicians and billionaire philanthropists.

But somehow we’re to blame.

Teachers dedicate their lives to fight the ignorance and poverty of the next generation and are found guilty of the very problem they came to help alleviate. It’s like blaming a doctor when a patient gets sick, blaming a lawyer because his client committed a crime or blaming a firefighter because an arsonist threw a match.

The Philadelphia decision makes clear the paranoid conspiracy theories about school privatization are neither paranoid nor mere theories. We see them enacted in our local newspapers and media in the full light of day.

Step 1: Poor schools lose state and federal funding.

Step 2: Schools can’t cope with the loss, further reduce services, quality of education suffers.

Step 3: Blame teachers, privatize, cancel union contracts, reduce quality of education further.

Ask yourself this: why does this only happen at poor schools?

You never see a rich school dissolve its contract with its teachers. You never see a rich school declare it will become a charter to increase educational outcomes.

Why is that? Is it because rich schools are so poorly managed they can’t see the benefits of these excellent strategies – or is it because no one cares about the poor?

Poverty has been the driving factor behind the Philadelphia Schools tragedy for decades.  Approximately 70% of district students are at or near the poverty line.

To meet this need, the state has bravely chipped away at its share of public school funding. In 1975, Pennsylvania provided 55% of school funding statewide; in 2014 it provides only 36%. Nationally, Pennsylvania is 45th out of 50 for lowest state funding for public education.

Such chronic neglect by the state left poorer Philadelphia neighborhoods unable to make up the difference financially. In 1998, exasperated school administrators threatened to close the district unless the state paid its fair share.

The matter went to the courts with the district suing the state for not providing “thorough and efficient” funding and discriminating against the district’s largely non-White population. After a long series of negotiations, in 2001 lawmakers quickly created contentious legislation to take over management of the district.

Since the schools were in distress (read: poor), the state decided it could do the following: put the district under the control of a School Reform Commission; hire a CEO; enable the CEO to hire non-certified staff, reassign or fire staff; allow the commission to hire for-profit firms to manage some schools; convert others to charters; and move around district resources.

And now after 13 years of state management with little to no improvement, the problem is once again the teachers. It’s not mismanagement by the SRC. It’s not the chronic underfunding. It’s not crippling, generational poverty. It’s these greedy people who volunteer to work with the children most in need.

We could try increasing services for those students. We could give management of the district back to the people who care most: the citizens of Philadelphia. We could increase the districts portion of the budget so students could get more arts and humanities, tutoring, wraparound services, etc. That might actually improve the educational quality those children receive.

Nah! It’s the teachers! Let’s rip up their labor contract!

Take my word for it. Educators have had it.

There will come a time – that time may have come already – when teachers refuse to be the scapegoats for poor policies made by poor decision-makers to fleece and rob the poor.

It all comes down to standardized tests. Bureaucrats don’t know how to measure educational achievements without them. After all, they’re not, themselves, educators. That’s why every major educational “reform” of recent years requires more-and-more of these fill-in-the-bubble falsely objective, poorly written and cheaply graded tests.

In fact, standardized test scores are used to determine whether a school is “failing” or not. It was, after all, one of the chief justifications used for the state takeover of Philly schools.

However, educators know the emperor has no clothes. We know the best predictor of high test scores is a student’s parental income. Rich kids score well, poor kids score badly. Standardized tests don’t measure knowledge. They measure economics.

That’s why parents across the nation are increasingly refusing to let their children take them. It’s why colleges are increasingly lifting the requirement that applicants even take the SAT.

Teachers, too, have begun refusing to administer the tests. However, this is risky because in doing so they are in jeopardy of being fired for insubordination.

But times are changing. The two biggest teachers unions in the country recently came out in favor of protecting educators who take this principled stance.

Alice O’Brien, head of the NEA Office of the General Counsel:

“NEA supports parents who chose to exercise their legal right to opt their children out of standardized tests. When educators determine that a standardized test serves no legitimate educational purpose, and stand in solidarity with their local and state association to call for an end to the administration of that test in their schools, NEA will support those educators just as it did in the case of the teachers who protested the administration of the MAP test at Garfield High School.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten:

“We supported teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle when they refused to give redundant tests. We supported early childhood teachers in New York when they shined the light on how abusive it is to give bubble tests to 5-year-olds. On the testing madness that’s sapping the joy from our classrooms, teachers are the canaries in the coal mines, and we support their advocacy. Ultimately, though, it’s up to parents to make the decision whether to opt out.”

It follows then that educators should refuse to administer standardized tests across the country – especially at poor schools.

What do we have to lose? The state already is using these deeply flawed scores to label our districts a failure, take us over and then do with us as they please.

Refuse to give them the tools to make that determination. Refuse to give the tests. How else will they decide if a school is succeeding or failing? They can’t come out and blame the lack of funding. That would place the blame where it belongs – on the same politicians, bureaucrats and billionaire philanthropists who pushed for these factory school reforms in the first place.

This would have happened much sooner if not for fear teachers would lose their jobs. The Philadelphia decision shows that this may be inevitable. The state is committed to giving us the option of working under sweatshop conditions or finding employment elsewhere. By unanimously dissolving the union contract for teachers working in the 8th largest district in the country, they have removed the last obstacle to massive resistance.

Teachers want to opt out. They’ve been chomping at the bit to do this for years. We know how destructive this is to our students. But we’ve tried to compromise – I’ll do a little test prep here and try to balance it with a real lesson the next day. Testing is an unfortunate part of life and I’m helping my students by teaching them to jump through these useless hoops.

But now we no longer need to engage in these half measures. In fact, continuing as before would go against our interests.

Any Title 1 district – any school that serves a largely impoverished population – would be best served now if teachers refused to give the powers that be the tools needed to demoralize kids, degrade teachers and dissolve their work contracts. And as the poorer districts go, more affluent schools should follow suit to reclaim the ability to do what’s best for their students. The standardized testing machine would ground to a halt offering an opportunity for real school reform. The only option left would be real, substantial work to relieve the poverty holding back our nation’s school children.

In short, teachers need to engage in a mass refusal to administer standardized tests.

“But you can’t do that,” say the politicians, bureaucrats and billionaire philanthropists.

Oh, yes, we can.

This article was published on Diane Ravich’s blog and the Badass Teachers Association blog.

The Best Evidence Against Common Core


There were hands in the air. Lots of them.

It wasn’t just the same one or two I was used to seeing, either. It was almost all of them.

My classroom of 8th grade Language Arts students had something to say, and they could barely contain it.

We sat together in a circle, the desks piled in the center and forgotten. We peered across that distance at each other’s faces and waited for someone to be called on.

It wasn’t me who did it.

The student who had just spoken picked a girl across the room from him. A smile cracked her face wide open as she began to speak.

This wasn’t the norm in my room. At least not yet.

We had only been together a few weeks. In that short time, this group of children from impoverished families – many of whom had criminal records, behavior contracts and folders full of write up slips in the office – had really been putting me through my paces.

If you left them in a room alone, there would probably be a fist fight in 5 minutes. If you peeked at their IEPS, you’d see a host of pharmaceuticals needed just to get them through the day. And if you only looked at their standardized test scores, you’d assume they’d need help to tie their own shoes.

But here they were sitting comfortably, discussing societal racism, gender roles, and how we treat the disabled.

If you closed your eyes and just listened, you’d think it was a class of college freshmen.

That’s what a Socratic Seminar does to a class full of troubled teens.

For the uninitiated, Elfie Israel succinctly defines Socratic Seminars as follows:

The Socratic Seminar is a formal discussion, based on a text, in which the leader asks open-ended questions.  Within the context of the discussion, students listen closely to the comments of others, thinking critically for themselves, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others.  They learn to work cooperatively and to question intelligently and civilly. (89)1

Socratic Seminars acknowledge the highly social nature of learning and align with the work of John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and Paulo Friere.

In short, it’s the kind of thing teachers used to do all the time before No Child Left Behind, Common Core and Race to the Top replaced it with something more rigorous – test prep.

The text we were discussing was “Raymond’s Run” by Toni Cade Bambera. The story centers around Squeaky, an African American girl tasked with looking after her mentally challenged brother, Raymond. At first this is just a chore assigned by her parents. Her real goal is to defeat all comers in various track and field events. However, by the end of the story, she discovers that helping others is its own reward.

But hush. Destiny is speaking.

“Squeaky is kind of a Tomboy,” she read from the question sheet I provided. “Should girls do girly things like being ‘flowers or fairies or strawberries’ or should they be allowed to do more masculine things like play sports? Why or why not?”

“Girls should be allowed to do whatever they want,” she answered. “If they want to play sports or do things that we usually think of as boy things, no one should stop them.”

“In fact,” she went on, “boys should be able to do girl things if they want, too. It’s just like in the story when Squeaky says girls can’t be real friends with other girls because they’re too busy being something other people expect them to be. If people were allowed to be themselves, there’d be less fights.”

Destiny was a girl who only last week sullenly sat with her head down refusing to answer any of my classroom questions with a suck of the teeth. Now she sounded like Gloria Steinem.

And she wasn’t alone. She chose Pablo to continue answering the question about gender roles. He brought up how people in our school treat gay kids.

Pablo said it made him sad that other boys were afraid to be seen hanging around with some kids because they thought their friends would call them gay. “Two girls can hug and hold hands and no one says anything, but if boys did that – they’re gay.”

This from a child who is often absent from school and still had the remains of a black eye that the guidance councilor would only explain by saying the school was aware of it.

Serina took the floor next and had to actually calm herself down before speaking. She told us about her brother, who is gay, and how it makes her cry when people make fun of him. In fact, there may have been a tear or two she calmly rubbed out of her eye with her palm.

At this point – had he been there – David Coleman would put a halt to our discussion.

The co-author of the Common Core famously said, “People don’t really give a shit about what you feel or think.

So shut up, kids. No one cares what you have to say.

Drawing from his deep zero years of training in the field of education, Coleman said:

Do you know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today?…It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with these two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people don’t really give a shit about what you feel or think. What they instead care about is can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me. It is a rare working environment that someone says, “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.”

This attitude is reflected in the standards Coleman helped write and Bill Gates coerced state and federal governments to force on our public schools.

It’s embodied in an emphasis on close reading – going over a text multiple times to squeeze every drop of intention from the author. It’s a fine way of understanding what the author may have meant. It’s not a fine way of teaching or even understanding the full scope of a literary text.

To be honest, this isn’t exactly cutting edge stuff. It comes from the New Criticism of literary theory of the 1940s. Most schools of education replaced this outdated orthodoxy with Reader-Response theory thirty or forty years ago. Reader-Response sees the author as merely one of many factors making meaning in a text. Of equal importance is the world in which the author lived and the particular point of view of the reader.

Think about it. To Kill a Mockingbird is a very different book written during the Civil Rights Movement than had it been written in the 1990s. It’s important to know that many of the characters are based on real people in the author’s life. It’s important to know about the violence and civil unrest that came to a head at the time of the book’s publication. Moreover, an inner city African American boy has a different experience reading it than a privileged white suburbanite.

Reader-Response criticism opens up the act of reading and allows for classroom activities like the Socratic Seminar. But Coleman wouldn’t know anything about that. He was an English Literature major, and when given the chance to write education standards, he paid no attention to what was most pedagogically significant. He simply favored his pet literary theory over those of more modern thinkers.

But if Coleman and the architects of Common Core could be in my classroom, they might see the error of their ways.

Allowing students ownership of the text – allowing them to take their proper place as part of a complex relationship between the text, author and the world – is so much more engaging an experience than just being an authorial archeologist.

When we insist on strict adherence to the author’s message – and only that – we create a false objectivity. Language Arts is a subject that is at most times open to interpretation. But Coleman makes it a guessing game to get the “right answer.”

Literature is not math. We shouldn’t try to turn it into something it isn’t.

This is why at the beginning of the year, my students take my innocent questions about the meaning of a text as an affront. They see me as just another adult trying to trick them. They assume I’m trying to get them to guess what I’m thinking – about what the author was thinking. There has to be only one true answer, they suppose, and if they haven’t been good at guessing it in the past, why try now?

It takes a while, but through lessons like the Socratic Seminar, I try to broaden their horizons, to show them that they have a vital place in this dynamic. Without a reader, a text is nothing but words on paper. Without a larger societal context, those words lack their full meaning.

Moreover, not all texts are created equal. By this I don’t mean that some aren’t rigorous enough. I mean that literary texts are richer and deeper if they come from a multitude of cultural points of view.

We used to know this. Schools used to encourage students to read works by the full spectrum of Americans – African Americans, Latino-Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, etc. Now we shove all that under the carpet in favor of “rigorous” works by the same safe vanilla European Caucasian males.

Common Core doesn’t stop schools from using multicultural texts, but it doesn’t value them, either. There is no standard about the importance of reading diverse authors. In fact, the only diversity I see valued is that students should view diverse kinds of media!

Great! Read an essay, watch a video, play a song. But what about being exposed to diverse cultures and points of view?

Oh! I almost forgot. Coleman says no one gives a shit about that stuff.

My students do. When they read a work by an African American woman like Toni Cade Bambera, they can see themselves in her work. I’ve taught an awful lot of Squeakies in my years as a teacher. (I’ve even taught a few David Colemans.)

When you can open a book and see yourself looking back, what a motivation to read! But how unfair that we only value providing this experience for the white kids!

If we had truly high standards, we’d recognize this. We wouldn’t ignore the value of multiculturalism. We wouldn’t dumb down Language Arts to a simplistic and anachronistic formula designed to fail and humiliate.

Coleman and the Common Core designers would know that if they had ever led a classroom of students. But hardly any of them are educators. They’re bureaucrats, politicians and millionaire philanthropists.

They’re missing the true picture.

Because the best evidence against Common Core is denied them.

Because the best evidence against Common Core is in the classroom.


1 – Israel, Elfie.  “Examining Multiple Perspectives in Literature.”  In Inquiry and the Literary Text: Constructing Discussions n the English Classroom.  James Holden and John S. Schmit, eds.  Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2002.

-For more information about Socratic Seminars, professional development and even ideas about how to extoll their Common Core benefits (lesson plans, people!) please visit Socratic Seminars International.

This article was also published on Diane Ravich’s blog and the Badass Teachers Association blog.