“Students, parents, teachers and others have told us that too much time in the classroom is used for test taking,” he said.
“We want to put the focus back on learning in the classroom, not teaching to a test. Standardized testing can provide a useful data point for a student’s performance, but our focus should be on teaching students for future success, not just the test in front of them.”
So at his urging we made slight cuts to our Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests – the assessment for grade 3-8 students.
We removed two sections of the PSSA – one in math, one in reading – and reduced the number of science questions.
But it’s not exactly the kind of sea change the state claims, given the Department of Education’s recommendations for additional tests on top of the PSSA.
That’s right. The state wants schools to give the CDT assessment an additional 3 to 5 times a year in reading, math and science.
Unlike the PSSA, this is a voluntary assessment. Districts can decide against it, but the department’s flunkies are crisscrossing the Commonwealth advising we all give the CDT as much as possible.
So that’s between 50-90 minutes for each assessment. A district that follows the state’s guidelines would be adding as much as 270 minutes of testing every seven weeks. In a given year, that’s 1,350 minutes (or 22.5 hours) of additional testing!
Pop quiz, Governor Wolf. Cutting testing by 115 minutes while adding 1,350 minutes results in a net loss or a net gain?
The answer is an increase of 1,235 minutes (or more than 20 hours) of standardized testing.
The folks who work at the Department of Education instead of in the classroom with living, breathing children, will tell you that these CDT tests are a vital tool to help students learn.
They provide detailed information about which skills individual students need remediation on.
But who teaches that way?
Billy, you are having trouble with this kind of multiple-choice question, so here are 100 of them.
We don’t do that. We read. We write. We think. We communicate.
And if somewhere along the way, we struggle, we work to improve that while involved in a larger project that has intrinsic value – such as a high interest book or a report on a hero of the civil rights movement.
When learning to walk, no one concentrates on just bending your knees. Even if you have stiff joints, you work them out while trying to get from point A to point B.
Otherwise, you reduce the exercise to boring tedium.
That’s what the state is suggesting we do.
Make something essentially interesting into humdrum monotony.
I know if my students can read by observing them in that act. I know if they can write by observing them doing it. I know if they can communicate by listening to them arguing in Socratic seminar. I read their poems, essays and short stories. I watch their iMovies and Keynote projects.
I’m a teacher. I am present in the classroom.
That tells me more than any standardized diagnostic test ever will.
Oh, we’re too good mannered to be brazen about it. We’d rather encourage you for trying than criticize you for getting something wrong.
But if you ask us for truth, that’s usually what you’ll get.
Just ask any first grader.
“Is my finger painting good, Miss Pebbles?”
“Oh my, it is!”
“Why yes. I love what you did with that smear of yellow and blue in the corner. Where they overlap, it turns green.”
“Do you think it’s good enough to compete against the seniors in the high school?”
“Maybe you’d better practice a bit more, Dear. At least wait until you can spell your name correctly before devoting your life to art.”
That’s why I was so delighted to get an invitation to do a TED talk.
Here was my chance to tell it like it is.
Sure, some people look to TED for encouragement and life affirming inspiration.
But the way I see it, the only real affirmation is honesty.
Otherwise, it’s just a bromide, a deception, an intellectual hard candy to plop into your skull and let your cranium suck on until all the sugar is gone.
We’ve all seen these TED talks on YouTube or the Internet – some well-dressed dude or dudette standing in front of a crowd with a headset microphone and a grin offering anecdotes and words of wisdom to a theater full of eager listeners.
But after hundreds of thousands of talks in scores of countries, the format has almost become a parody of itself. At many of these events, you’re just as likely to find some Silicon Valley tech millionaire waxing philosophic about his casual Friday’s management style as you are to hear something truly novel.
No, the way I see it, the TED extravaganzas are just asking for a bundle of truth wrapped in a plain brown box – quiet, unassuming and ticking!
I was rooming with Jesse “The Walking Man” Turner – an education professor at Central Connecticut University and famed social justice activist. He’s been involved with everyone from Moral Monday’s to S.O.S. Save Our Schools. But he’s most well-known for walking from Hartford to Washington, DC, to protest school privatization and standardization – a feat he did not once, but twice!
Anyway, one night as I was fading into sleep, he whispered to me from across the room, “Steve, you ever thought about doing a TED talk?”
“Huh? Whas tha, Jesse?”
“A TED talk. You ever thought about doing one?”
“Oh I don’t know. That would be pretty cool, I guess.”
“I organize an independent TED event at my school every year. We should get you on the schedule.”
And that was it.
I think. If there was any more to that conversation my conscious mind wasn’t involved in it.
But then the following year I got a call from Jesse asking if I was ready to come to Connecticut.
I wasn’t. I’d just had two mild heart attacks and wasn’t in a condition to go anywhere. I could barely gather the strength to go to school and teach my classes.
But our profession is under attack.
Public schools are being targeted for destruction. The powers that be are using segregation, targeted disinvestment and standardized testing to destabilize public schools and replace them with privatized ones.
The school house is on fire! This is no time for heart-warming stories. It’s time for anger, agitation and activism!
But then the opportunity came to “practice” my speech in front of my entire school building.
I thought to myself, is THIS really what I want to talk about?
If I only get one shot at this – and I probably will get only one shot – do I really want to spend it on society’s unfair expectations?
That’s when I scrapped what I had and started over, this time focusing on “The Plot to Destroy Public Education.”
I must have rewritten my presentation at least five times.
Jesse said I’d have no more than 15 minutes so I practiced just about every night to make sure I was within that time.
The word may have gotten out around my school because the invitation to speak to the entire building quickly evaporated. Maybe there really was a scheduling mix up. Maybe not.
But it didn’t matter. My presentation was ready like a bomb – no hand holding, no concessions, just the truth.
The weeks flew by.
Before I knew it, it was time to fly to Connecticut. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.
When I got there, Jesse picked me up from the airport. He was a consummate host. He couldn’t have treated me better if I was royalty. He paid for my hotel, paid for most meals, drove me everywhere, kept me in good company and entertainment and even gave me a “Walking Man” mug as a token of his appreciation.
I was the only person flying in from outside of the Hartford area. Most of the other seven speakers were from there or had roots in the community.
All but two others were PhDs. The list of names, vocations and stories were impressive. Dr. Dorthy Shaw, a famed education and women’s studies professor, talked about surviving cancer. Dr. Noel Casiano, a sociologist, criminal justice expert and marriage counselor, told a heartbreaking personal story about the three people who mentored him from troubled teen to successful adult. Dr. Kurt Love, a CCSU professor focusing on social justice and education, talked about the greed underlying our economic and social problems. Dr. Barry Sponder, another CCSU professor focusing on technology in education, talked about flipped classrooms. Dr. Johnny Eric Williams, a sociology professor, talked about the myth of whiteness and how it corrupts how we speak about race.
Elsa Jones and her son Brian Nance were the only other non-PhDs. Jones is an early education consultant and the daughter of the Rev. Dr. William Augustus Jones, Jr., a famed civil rights leader who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
They were the ones I bonded with the most. All four of us went out for pizza after the talks.
But when I first entered the Welte Auditorium in the Central Connecticut State University campus, it was truly frightening.
The building could hold hundreds, perhaps thousands of people. Yet organizers had limited the audience to only a hundred. All the seats were up on the stage.
There was a little circular rug where we were to stand and the camera people were setting everything up.
Behind us, a ceiling high blue-purple backdrop would showcase the TED logo and any slides we had prepared.
Which brings up an interesting distinction.
This was not a corporate TED event organized by the TED conference and sanctioned by their foundation. It was a TED “X” event, which means it was independently organized.
TED licenses its name for these grassroots X-events. There are a list of rules that organizers must follow. For example, all tickets to the event must be free. Contrast that with the corporate TED events where tickets go for thousands of dollars.
I was glad I was where I was. This was going to be the real deal – a thoughtful discussion of authentic issues. And somehow I was up there with these incredible thinkers and activists.
The moment came. Drs. Shaw and Casiano had already spoken. I got up from my seat in the front row to get my lapel microphone attached.
Jesse gave me a warm introduction letting everyone in on the secret of my tie – the design was a picture of my daughter repeated to infinity.
So I walked to my mark and started speaking.
It seems there was some sort of technical difficulty with the microphone. My voice didn’t appear to be coming from the speakers – or if it was, it wasn’t projecting very well. So I spoke louder.
Then Jesse came from the wings and gave me a hand mic and a music stand for my notes.
It took a moment to get used to handling the microphone, the clicker for my slides and my iPad (where I had my notes), but I got the hang of it.
And I was off and running.
I said it. I said it all.
The audience certainly didn’t seem bored. All eyes were on me. A few heads were nodding in agreement. Some faces seemed stunned.
When I ended, there was universal applause. A few folks patted me on the back when I got back to my seat and shook my hand.
And that was it.
I thoroughly enjoyed the remaining presentations but it was hard to concentrate in the post-TED elation.
Jones and Nance were probably the closest to what I was talking about and we got along like we’d known each other for years.
When I got back to the hotel, I felt elation and exhaustion in equal measure.
I had done it.
After months, years of planning, it was over.
Jesse tells me the video will be on-line in a matter of weeks. (I’ll revise this post with the video when it goes live.) Though he did mention that one point in my presentation made him a bit nervous – I had called out Bill Gates for his role in the destruction of public schools. However, Gates is a big donor to TEDs. Jesse half-jokingly said that the TED folks might take issue with that and refuse to upload my speech.
But whatever. I told the truth. If that gets me censored, so be it.
This will be something I’ll never forget.
I’m sorry this article has gone on so long, but there was much to tell. It’s not every day that someone like me gets such a stage and such a potential audience.
Hopefully, my video and my speech will be seen by many people who have never heard of this fight before. Hopefully it will open minds and stoke people to act.
And hopefully the mic issues at the opening won’t be distracting.
Thank you for following my blog and being there with me on this incredible journey.
I left nothing important unsaid. I gave it my all.
Am I obsessed and distressed by oppressive divestment?
Oh who cares? Kiss my assessment!
Double, Double, test and trouble;
Standards stern so fill in that bubble.
NOTE: I wrote this poem during and after proctoring this year’s PSSA test for my 7th grade students. Can’t imagine where the inspiration came from! I’ll just say that the opposite of standardized testing has always seemed to be poetry. I hope you enjoyed my verses. It was either that or spit curses!
2) You say stealth testing has made the traditional standardized assessments irrelevant?
Okay. Competency Based Education is a real problem that threatens to make everyday test day – I’ll go with you there. In fact, schemes like Personalized Learning could transform every app into an opportunity to test kids without them even knowing it.
But that doesn’t mean the old fashioned high stakes tests have gone away!
Far from it. The federal government still requires all states to give these assessments to public school students in grades 3-8 and once in high school.
Let’s say the feds required teachers to give rich kids higher grades than poor children.
Or say the state commanded teachers to copy down sensitive information about students and give it to private corporations.
Imagine if the school board instructed teachers to put minority kids in slower classes than white kids.
If any of that happened, there would be wide scale revolt!
They are used to justify increased segregation within school buildings because implicit testing bias means white kids generally score higher than children of color. So the white kids get more advanced courses and the brown ones get test prep.
3) You say the Opt Out kids are just trying to get out of doing work. It’s just laziness.
First, of all, it is the parents who are opting their children out of standardized testing – not the students. Second, who are you to question their motives?
Next, we should force our unions to do the things that we can’t as safely do as individuals.
Call parents and ask them to opt IN!? We should be doing just the opposite, but that would put a target on our backs.
As a teacher, I can’t unilaterally call or send a letter home to my students’ parents explaining why they should opt their kids out. If I did that, I could find myself in administration’s cross hairs and face grave repercussions.
But isn’t that why we have a union? To stand up as a collective and do the necessary things we can’t do as individuals?
The tech moguls and the testing giants are salivating over the prospect of replacing us with apps and low-skilled, low paid babysitters to oversee students hunched over computers and tablets. (See? Told you Personalized Learning was poison.)
All it would take is WordPress deleting the site or maybe the power goes out and never comes back or a zombie apocalypse or who knows…
But a book. That’s kinda’ permanent.
It has mass and takes up space.
That won’t just poof out of existence if someone unplugs the wrong server.
It would take some sort of conscious effort for a book to go away. People would have to actively work to destroy it. They’d have to pile those rectangular paper bundles in a fire pit, douse them in gasoline and light a match.
Otherwise, they’d just maybe sit in a basement somewhere in boxes, unopened and collecting dust.
Or could it really be that people might actually crack the spine and read the things?
It’s a strange sort of birth this transition from cyberspace to 3-dimensional reality.
And it’s about to transpire with selected bits of my writing.
I am flabbergasted. Shocked. Almost in denial that this is really happening.
Did I mention that I’m a public school teacher? No one is supposed to listen to us.
School policy is made without us. Decisions impacting our kids and our careers are made by people who haven’t seen the classroom in years – if ever. And when we politely raise our hands to let people know that something isn’t working, the best we can hope for is to be ignored; the worst is to be bullied into silence.
Maybe I’ve got some sort of debilitating disease and no one’s told me yet.
The book officially comes out on Nov. 28. So when I’m handed my first actual copy, I’d say it’s even money that the next thing I’ll be handed is some medical document showing I only have moments left to live.
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.
In my 40-some years, I’ve tried to do that. I’ve tried to make some lasting mark on the world. Tried to leave it a better place than I found it.
I started as a journalist.
It was great! I could shake up a whole community just by writing something, uncovering some hidden truth, asking a tough question.
But I needed to eat, too, and you can’t do that when you’re on call 24-hours a day for nearly minimum wage under the constant threat of downsizing and meddling by the publisher and advertisers.
So I got my masters degree and became a school teacher.
And it’s been great! I can alter the course of a child’s entire life by helping her learn to read, encouraging her to write and getting her to think and ask questions.
But I’m under constant threat by bureaucrats who know nothing about pedagogy and child psychology trying to force me to do things in ways I know are wrong, detrimental or prejudicial.
And it’s been great. I joined groups of likeminded individuals and we took to the streets and the legislature and lawmakers offices and parent meetings and teachers conferences and just about anywhere you could stir things up and get people to start asking the right questions.
That led directly to the blog and now the book.
So what’s in it?
In short, it’s my hand-selected favorite articles. These are the ones that either got the most readers or that have a special place in my heart or both.
And this summer I sat at my kitchen table and intensively revised almost all of them. Even if you’ve read them before, these are definitive versions. In some cases, they’re considerably different than the versions you might still find up on-line.
Who did I write it for?
You, I hope.
But, if I’m honest, the people I most had in mind reading it were my daughter and my students.
One day my little girl will grow up and she may wonder what her old man thought about X, Y and Z.
What did Daddy think about racism? What did he think a good teacher did? What were his thoughts about politics, prejudice and reform?
I can see some of my students doing the same.
Perhaps I flatter myself that they may dimly remember me – their crazy 7th or 8th grade Language Arts teacher. I wonder what Mr. Singer would have said about… whatever.
I guess this is my way of telling them.
It’s a time capsule of my present day thoughts. And a guide for how to get to a better future.
You’re cordially invited to read it.
If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, let me just say – thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I never would have had the courage to continue without you.
If you’re new to my writing, welcome aboard. I hope I’ve given you reason to keep reading.
And I hope that one or two of you will be inspired to seek out a certain oblong bundle of papers wrapped in a blue and white cover proclaiming my undying, self-chosen, provocative descriptor:
Gadfly on the Wall.
(Oh! And a special shout out to Denisha Jones and Yohuru Williams for writing incredible introductions to the book! I am beyond honored!)
One group has barrels full of cash. The other has numbers. However, our laws are written to obscure exactly how much money any one side has. And if you have money, you can use it to buy bodies to line up on your side and “prove” you have numbers.
So when it comes to the American education system, which side truly represents the grassroots – those supporting privatized schools like charter and voucher institutions or those supporting public schools?
It’s kind of a ridiculous question to ask, when you come to think of it.
“The people praised in the film” (i.e. public school teachers) “get paid from taxpayer dollars,” Allen told the Hollywood Reporter, as if the people the film criticizes (charter and voucher operators) don’t also get paid from the same pot.
“The teachers unions spend $300 million a year on political races. We don’t have that kind of money.”
Is that true?
Are those pushing for corporate control of our schools really unable to match the monetary might of the big bad teachers unions?
Well, first let’s examine the number Allen bandies about as if it were fact.
$300 million. Do teachers unions actually spend that much annually on political races?
It’s doubtful. The entire operating budget for the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers union in the country, is only $367 million. And the union does an awful lot besides lobby lawmakers for pro-education public policy. It raises funds for scholarships, conducts professional development workshops, bargains contracts for school employees, files legal action on behalf of teachers to protect their rights, and partners with other education organizations to promote sound educational practices. Political lobbying is an important part of what unions do, but if they spent what they’re accused of spending on it – even if you include other unions like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – they couldn’t do the rest of what they do.
It’s based on a funding target the unions had for the 2008 election of which the unions fell short by almost a third. But now right-wingers and anti-labor trolls everywhere are married to that number and quote it as if it were fact.
And speaking of those who fight on behalf of poor beleaguered corporate America, how much do THEY have to spend fighting public schools?
Well, let’s just take two of their most famous backers – Charles and David Koch.
This duo runs one of the largest privately held companies in the United States: Koch Industries. It is involved in petroleum, chemicals, natural gas, plastics, paper and ranching. In 2013, Forbes said it had an annual revenue of $115 billion.
That’s an incredible amount of resources they can draw on every year when compared to teachers unions. The NEA would have to bring in more than three times its annual revenue to even come close to matching 1% of the Koch’s annual pay.
And do the Kochs spend on politics? You BET they do!
In 2012, alone, they spent at least $407 million on Mitt Romeny’s Presidential campaign! Yes, just that one campaign! They spent more on others! But even if we limit it there, that’s more than even the most absurd estimates of teacher’s unions political spending.
And they’re only two people!
We’re comparing about 3 million members of the NEA, and 1.5 million members of the AFT with two individual human beings.
Even if teachers unions spent $300 million, that only comes to less than $67 per member.
But you must realize, the super wealthy don’t want that. More than anything else it would exponentially increase the power of the unions and the middle class from which they come. Not to mention their allies – the parents, students, child advocates, etc.
You really don’t need a detailed analysis of each group’s relative financial worth. You just have to look at who is in each group.
My article contains no hate speech. For once I even managed to control my own potty mouth.
This is just an examination of why charter and voucher schools reduce options for parents and students – not increase them.
It’s an argument. I lay out my reasons with reference to facts and make numerous connections to other people’s work and articles.
I don’t understand how that “violates community standards.”
A blogger friend of mine tells me that someone probably saw my article and reported it to Facebook as spam. That’s happened to him multiple times, he says, especially when he criticizes groups like Teach for America.
Perhaps that’s what’s happened here.
Some folks get so furious when I criticize their charter and voucher schools.
Maybe they saw my latest piece and just wanted to silence me.
I don’t know.
I suppose another option is that it came from Zuckerberg, himself.
Who knows? I’ve pissed off a lot of people in three years.
But I find it hard to believe I was actively targeted. I mean, this is still America, right?
Another option might be a rogue algorithm.
Facebook is known to use various processes or sets of rules to govern calculations about what should and should not be allowed on the site. After all, they can’t leave all these decisions to living, breathing, human beings. That would cost too much money. Better to leave it to bots and computers.
Perhaps something in my article tripped their robotic alarm bells. (ROBOT VOICE: He’s against Competency Based Education!EXTERMINATE!)
I guess I’ll probably never know.
In the meantime, Twitter is still open for my business. I can still share links in 140 characters or less – with hastags. And, the best part is that Trump might see it!
But what about friends not on the Twitterverse?
How do I even let people know what happened to me? Send a million separate emails!? Pick up the phone and – yuck – talk to people!?
I sent a note to friends through Facebook Messenger about what happened, but that soon stopped working on me. I can’t message anyone else now. Still, the story seems to have leaked.
People who know what’s happened have been kind enough to share the article. It’s being read and appreciated.
I don’t know if my Facebook imprisonment has had a major effect on its distribution. But it’s probably had some dampening effect.
I have to admit, it’s kind of frustrating.
After all this time, many of us rely on Facebook for so much. I’m a member of the Badass Teachers Association, a group of more than 64,000 members who use the social media platform to discuss, plan and engage in various actions against corporate school reform. I’m also in United Opt Out National. It’s increasingly difficult for me to help plan our protest in Washington, DC, without Facebook.
It never really hit me before how much of our lives flow through this one network.
If someone wanted to disrupt political organizations dedicated to reforming the status quo, censoring people and posts on Facebook could be very effective.
I haven’t been silenced, but I’ve been effectively muted. Most of my readers see my work through Facebook. Without it, my writing is out there, but much fewer people probably are in contact with it.
So I suppose that brings me to you, intrepid reader.
Somehow you found this article.
Assuming Zuckerberg and his bots don’t change their minds, I probably won’t be able to post this article to Facebook. So if you saw it, you found it somewhere else. Or perhaps a friendly radical took a chance and posted it on Facebook, themselves, defiant in the possibility that the social media gestapo might crash down on them.
Will you please do the same?
Share my story.
Let the world know what happened to me today.
It’s not the most important thing that’s happened this week. And hopefully it will all be settled in seven interminable days. 168 hours. 10,080 minutes. But who’s counting?
Or – who knows – perhaps I’ll be cleared of all charges, write a new article and the same thing will happen when I try to post it.
I don’t know.
In the meantime, I’m going to spend some time off the computer.
Maybe I’ll open the doors and windows, let in some natural light and see what this “outside world” is like that people used to talk about.
For several years, the Korean school system has topped the roughly 70 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) educational league, which measures 15-year-old students’ knowledge through the PISA test, an international student assessment exam within OECD member states.
However, the system is roundly criticized for its emphasis on memorization and test prep with little real-life application. In fact, 75 percent of South Korean children attend “cram schools” where they do little else than prepare for standardized assessments.
Likewise, Chinese students suffer similar curriculum and rates of child suicide. Though Shanghai students have some of the highest scores in OECD, abuse runs rampant.
Brook Larmer of the New York Times reports visiting student dormitories in Maotanchang, a secluded town in Anhui province, where the windows were covered in wire mesh to prevent students from jumping to their deaths.
In the United States, education “reform” hasn’t reached these depths, but we’re getting closer every year.
A classroom where students aren’t allowed to pursue their natural curiosities and are instead directed to boring and abstract drills is not a place of joy and discovery. A school that does not allow children to express themselves but forces constant test prep is a lifeless environment devoid of hope.
But that’s not the worst of it.
American students are increasingly being sorted and evaluated by reference to their test score rather than their classroom grade or other academic indicators. Students are no longer 6th, 7th or 8th graders. They’re Below Basics, Basics, Proficents and Advanced. The classes they’re placed in, the style of teaching, even personal rewards and punishments are determined by a single score.
In some states, like Florida, performance on federally mandated tests actually determine if students can advance to the next grade. Some children pass their classes but don’t move on purely because of test scores well within the margin or error.
His mother explains that he had to take a summer remediation course and a retest, but still failed by one point. She couldn’t bear to tell him, but he insisted that he had failed and was utterly crushed.
After a brief period where he was silent, alone in his room, she became apprehensive:
“I … ran down the hall to [his] room, banged on the door and called his name. No response. I threw the door open. There was my perfect, nine- year-old freckled son with a belt around his neck hanging from a post on his bunk bed. His eyes were blank, his lips blue, his face emotionless. I don’t know how I had the strength to hoist him up and get the belt off but I did, then collapsed on the floor and held [him] as close to my heart as possible. There were no words. He didn’t speak and for the life of me I couldn’t either. I was physically unable to form words. I shook as I held him and felt his heart racing.
“I’d saved [him]! No, not really…I saved him physically, but mentally he was gone…The next 18 months were terrible. It took him six months to make eye contact with me. He secluded himself from friends and family. He didn’t laugh for almost a year…”
The boy had to repeat the third grade but is haunted by what had happened as is his mother.
And this is by no means an isolated incident.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the suicide rate for 5- to 14- year-olds jumped by 39.5 percent from 2000 to 2013. The rate for 15- to 24-year-olds, which was already 818% higher than for younger children, also increased during the same time period by 18.9 percent.
That’s more than 5,000 children and rising each year taking their own lives.
Again, high stakes testing isn’t responsible for all of it. But the dramatic increase along with a subsequent increase in high stakes testing is not unrelated.
The Alliance for Childhood, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advises on early education, compiled a report from parents, teachers, school nurses, psychologists, and child psychiatrists noting that the stress of high-stakes testing was literally making children sick.
On testing days, school nurses report that their offices are filled with students complaining of headaches and stomachaches. There have even been reports of uncontrollable sobbing.
“We know that many children cried during or after testing, and others vomited or lost control of their bowels or bladders. Others simply gave up. One teacher reported that a student kept banging his head on the desk, and wrote, ‘This is too hard,’ and ‘I can’t do this,’ throughout his test booklet.”
School counselors note increasing student anxiety levels, sleep problems, drug use, avoidance behaviors, attendance problems, acting out, etc. that increase around testing time and during test prep lessons. This is a major contributor, they say, to the unprecedented increase in the number of young children being labeled and treated for psychiatric illnesses ranging from learning disabilities and attention disorders to anxiety and depression.
And the psychological trauma isn’t limited to the students, alone. The adults also suffer from it.
But when I found out she had taken the GRADE Test, a Pearson assessment not mandated by the state but required by my home district in order the receive state grant funding, I hit the roof.
I know the GRADE test. I’m forced to give a version of it to my own 8th grade students at a nearby district where I work. It stinks.
Ask any classroom teacher and they’ll tell you how useless it is. Giving it is at best a waste of class time. At worst it demoralizes children and teaches them that the right answer is arbitrary – like trying to guess what the teacher is thinking.
I talked candidly to her kindergarten teacher about it. I trust her judgment, so I wanted to know what she thought. And she agreed that these tests were far from necessary. So I set up a meeting with the principal.
The meeting lasted about an hour. Sure, it was a little scary. No one wants to rock the boat. But even he agreed with most of what I had to say. He didn’t feel as strongly about it as I did, but he respected my wishes and that was that.
She loves creating these illustrated books telling the wildest narratives: Colorful superheroes blast bad guys into oblivion. Game show hosts get lost in other dimensions. Even her Mommy and Daddy get in on the action riding Yoshi through Super Mario land.
Often she adds text to these adventures. Her spelling could use some work, but I’m impressed that an 8-year-old even attempts some of these words. Sometimes she writes more in her adventure books than my 8th graders do on their assigned homework.
As you can see, it hasn’t stopped me. But I teach in a high poverty, mostly minority district. My kids’ parents often don’t have the time to come up to the school or even return phone calls. They’re working two or three jobs. They’re struggling just to put food on the table. They don’t have time for standardized tests!
So every test season I sadly watch my students trudge away at their federally mandated bubbles. I see their anxiety, their frustration, their sad, sad faces.
And it breaks my heart.
But then I come home to my daughter’s exuberant creations!
Trump is a petulant, disgusting, fascist with terrible hair and a machismo complex. Clinton is a warmongering Wall Street lickspittle who smiles in your face as she secretly advocates policies that will hurt you and your family.
I simply refuse to choose between either one of them.
And before any of my so-called progressive friends start chiding me about third parties, let me just give you my reasoned argument: FUCK YOU.
Don’t tell me it’s a wasted vote. Don’t tell me it’s a vote for Trump. Read my lips: IT’S A VOTE FOR JILL STEIN!
No, I don’t want Trump to win. Yes, I agree Clinton is the lesser of two evils. But I simply cannot spend the rest of my adult life voting for evil.
Get real, people. When you keep choosing the best of the worst, it never ends. Do you really think things will be any different in four years? In eight?
The major parties will still give us a choice between dumb and dumber. I am done being a part of it. I’m opting out. Take your fake two-party Democracy and shove it.
When pundits and partisans talk about Presidential politics, they pretend it’s a game of chess. No. They think it’s fantasy football. Who won which debate? Who’s polling better with Latinos? Who’s got the most endorsements? They want you to take all this useless overcooked data and vote strategically, relying on the media to maximize the outcome regardless of the quality of the candidates involved. Unfortunately, it’s all baloney.
Few polls are actually scientific and even those that are given this dubious moniker are iffy at best. No matter what your opinion, you can find a poll or statistic somewhere to back it up. At least 60% of people know that!
This election has done a lot to foster my distrust of the media. The Associated Press calling primaries for Clinton before people were even done voting! Ignoring stories of voter irregularities! Giving Clinton debate questions ahead of time! Leaking a five year old video of Trump being a pig to bury Wikileaks emails that might otherwise hurt Clinton!
My God! We’ve gotten more actual news from whistleblowers in the past few years than journalists! And it’s pretty obvious why. The media is really just the public relations arm of the handful of corporations that own the dwindling number of newspapers, TV stations, search engines, etc. Very little makes it through the amalgamated filter that isn’t in the interests of the moneyed few.
Sorry. I prefer to think for myself.
There is just no reason to play games with your vote. It’s really quite simple. Vote for the candidate who best represents your values. That’s your only responsibility.
It’s up to each candidate to earn my vote. If I don’t cast a ballot for Clinton, I’m not a spoiler. She hasn’t done enough to prove to me that she’s the person for whom I should be voting. If that means she loses the election, it’s not my fault. She didn’t run a successful campaign. She didn’t give voters like me enough, she didn’t prove to us that she isn’t the same neoliberal lapdog of the elites that she’s always been.
She voted for the Patriot Act twice. She pushed for more troops in Afghanistan and US intervention in Libya. Her top donors are the same folks who crashed the economy – JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. She sold fracking to the world through the Global Shale Gas Initiative. She signed on to the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which, according to the ACLU, would have effectively legalized discrimination, and she introduced a bill that would have made flag burning a felony.
I’m sorry. I don’t care how many pussies Donald Trump grabbed. I can’t vote for a person like that!
So why Jill Stein?
Easy. I’ve met the woman, and she’s the real deal.
No, she doesn’t have Clinton’s experience, but that’s a good thing. I’m not entirely satisfied with what Clinton did while Secretary of State, a U.S. Senator or First Lady. Better to hire someone with good intentions who has to learn on the job than someone who is immediately in a position to continue our endless series of petty wars, enrich the banks and compromise away protections for the environment.
As a father of a school age child and a public school teacher, education is my number one issue. Trump wants to tear everything down and give it all away to big business. Clinton wants to do much the same but more slowly and with a smiley face sticker on it. Stein is the only candidate who actually wants to help.
When United Opt Out held its annual conference in Philadelphia last year, Stein was the only candidate to actually come and speak with us. You read that right. She didn’t send a surrogate. She didn’t write a letter. She came in person and talked to us as a group and one-on-one. Heck! She even gave me a hug as a fellow activist working for change.
She is in favor of everything that needs doing for our public schools. She wants to stop endless high stakes standardized testing. She wants to stop school privatization. She wants to fairly fund all public schools. She wants to provide free college and end all student debt. She wants single payer healthcare paid for by cutting our bloated military budget with no raise in taxes. She wants to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, stop giving weapons to Israel, freeze terrorist-funder’s bank accounts, end the War on Terror and engage in a policy of peace. Moreover, Stein wants the savings from slashing our biggest federal expenditure to be used to fund a New Green Deal, creating full employment and a living wage all while transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2030!
Now that’s a platform I can vote for without reservation.
However, I have no illusions that she’ll win. When tens of thousands of people can look at an admitted sexual predator like Trump with approbation, I know we’re just not ready as a species for a candidate like Stein.
We’re too stupid. Too racist. Too sexist. Too classist. Too much the evolutionary apes that conservatives refuse to believe in.
Yet those on the other side of the aisle are so civilized they’re willing to politely follow the leader over a cliff. They’ll ignore every criticism, silence any dissent as they’re given marching orders by the establishment all the while congratulating themselves for being so intelligent.
I’m not sure which is the bigger joke – this election or our electoral system. Trump whines that the election is rigged against him, and we laugh because he’s his own worst enemy. But the system is far from fair. You can’t tell me some of those primaries weren’t stolen from Bernie Sanders – people living in highly concentrated Sanders leaning districts facing long lines, closed polling stations and uncounted votes. Always against Sanders voters, hardly ever against Clinton or Trump supporters.
Even setting aside the crappy primary, look at our obsolete and eminently hackable voting machines. Look at our refusal to make election day a holiday. Look at our recent spat of voter ID legislation which makes it so much more difficult for the poor and minorities to cast a ballot.
This is the best system we can muster!? But of course it is, because the powers that be don’t want all of us to vote. They want just enough of us to foster the illusion of a democracy – a weak one that they can manipulate and control. They decided a long time ago they wanted Hillary Clinton to win. Trump is just there to scare the rest of us into voting for her so that we can pretend we had a choice.
I’m not saying things couldn’t go astray. If white nationalists come to the polls and everyone else stays away, we’ll have our new fuehrer. But the rich and powerful are betting on Clinton. She means stability for the market, she means the needs of business will be met and the rest of us will just sit back and take it because we had a “choice.”
Well, screw that. I’m not doing it.
I will proudly go to my polling place this November and give my vote to Stein. She’s earned it.