Pennsylvania’s Broken Testing Promise – We Don’t Assess Students Less If We Demand Constant Diagnostic Tests

Jelani Guzman

Downcast faces, dropping eyes, desperate boredom.

 

That’s not what I’m used to seeing from my students.

 

But today they were all slumped over their iPads in misery taking their Classroom Diagnostics Tools (CDT) test.

 

It’s at times such as these that I’m reminded of the promise made by Pennsylvania’s Governor, Tom Wolf.

 

He pledged that this year we’d reduce the amount of time public school students spend taking standardized assessments.

 

“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.

 

This can cut testing by as much as 48 minutes in math, 45 minutes in reading, and 22 minutes in science.

 

And that’s good news.

 

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.

 

In my classroom, that means students coming in excited to learn, but being told to put away their books, pocket their pencils and put their curiosity on standby.

 

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.

 

Teachers don’t need these diagnostics. We are deeply invested in the act of learning every day.

 

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.

 

It’s ironic that on a Department of Education “CDT Frequently Asked Questions” sheet, the assessment is described as “minimizing testing time.”

 

That’s just bad math.

 

And my student’s know it.

 

The district just sent out a letter telling parents and students they could take advantage of a school voucher to go to a local parochial school at public expense.

 

When presented with the prospect of another day of CDT testing in my room, one of my brightest students raised his hand and asked if kids in the local Catholic school took the test.

 

I told him I didn’t know – though I doubt it. They COULD take the test. It is available to nonpublic schools, but do you really think they’re going to waste that much instruction time?

 

Heck! They don’t even take the same MANDATORY standardized testing! Why would they bother with the optional kind!?

 

It is the public schools that are hopelessly tangled in the industrial testing complex. That’s how the moneyed interests “prove” the public schools are deficient and need to be replaced by privatized ones.

 

It’s an act of sabotage – and with the CDT it’s an act of self-sabotage.

 

School directors and administrators need to be smarter. The only way to beat a rigged game is not to play.

 

And the only way to reduce testing is to TAKE FEWER TESTS!


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

ebook-1

Burning Down the House at TEDxCCSU – Speaking Truth to Power with a BOOM!

31265515_10157264415409018_6319846807568384_n

 

 

There’s a reason our society rarely hands teachers the microphone.

We’ll tell you the truth.

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!”

“Really?”

“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!

For me, doing one was a long time coming.

The first I heard about it was at United Opt Out’s Education and Civil Rights Summit in Houston, Texas, two years ago.

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.

What followed was a year of recovery.

I dedicated myself to my students and my blog and made it through the year. In the summer, I put together my favorite on-line articles into a book for Garn Press – “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”

After it was published in November, I worked to promote it, going from event-to-event, book store-to-book store lecturing, signing, and listening. I was even invited to Chatham College to address their graduating class of teaching students.

Then another surprise. I was one of three educators in western Pennsylvania nominated for a Champions of Learning Award in Teaching from the Consortium for Public Education. In the final analysis, I didn’t end up winning the award, but it was a huge honor.

And then to top it all off, Jesse called me back and asked me if I was ready to come to Hartford and give the TED talk another try.

I jumped on it.

How could I say no?

This year has been like a second chance, a new lease on life. I’ve been eating healthier, exercising, losing weight and taking nothing for granted.

But that comes with certain responsibilities.

I couldn’t go there and just mouth platitudes and self-help advice. I couldn’t just tell some touchy-feely stories from my classroom and conclude about how great it is to be a teacher.

Even though it is great – the best job in the world.

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!

So that’s what I decided to speak about.

Frankly, that wasn’t what I originally planned.

At first, I was going to talk about how society expects too much of teachers – how we expect educators to do it all.

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.

31392968_10155840677638860_1951634311957953781_n

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.

Now to see where it goes.

Kiss My Assessment – A High Stakes Testing Poem

1*ek7Qa4T4-jUcRA2QOZG8Xg

 

Double, Double, test and trouble;

Standards stern so fill in that bubble.

 

 

Little Laquan, Empty belly

Reading passages by Maichiavelli

Does he know what the author thinks

Last night did he get forty winks

Drive-by shooting in his neighborhood

Answer questions that he should

Interrogated by the cops

Took away and locked his pops

Now he sits slumped in school

Testing, testing, it’s a rule

Will he – this time – make the grade

A debt to society he has paid

 

 

For being poor and his black skin

Success and riches, let me in!

But not unless you answer right

Like wealthy kids whose hue is white

Not two plus two or three and four

Context implied when you ask for

European culture and white society

If you know it, you’re in propriety

If not, take a longer road

Hurdles to jump and words to decode

 

 

But do not label the test unfair

Rich folks will blast you with hot air

Testing makes them bundles of billions

Leaching off of us civilians

Test prep, grading and remediation

Never mind that it keeps you in your station

Need new books, here’s Common Core

So big corporations can make some more

Money off your starving schools

The funding is drying up in pools

 

 

As politicians vote to gut

So they can give bankers another tax cut

Hotels and yachts and Maltese vacations

Touring havens in other nations

To hide their money and avoid paying

Anything to keep preying

On little kids and their moms

So long as they aren’t forced to pay alms

 

 

No nurses, no librarians, no psychologists

Nothing to feed a tummy or an esophagus

No fancy buildings, no small class sizes

Nothing to match the suburban enterprises

Fewer resources, fewer tutors,

Crumbling classrooms, archaic computers

Just give them tests as charity

And pretend it means populace parity

When he fails, we’ll blame Laquan

Fire his teacher and make her move on

 

 

Close his school and open a charter

And then his services we can barter

To turn his funding into profit

Democracy melts like warm chocolate

Private boards get public voice

Deciding who to enroll and calling it choice

Spending tax money behind closed doors

Filling classrooms with Americorps

Instructors who never earned a degree

But cheap trumps any pedigree

For teachers to teach the darkest of humans

As long as they don’t form any pesky unions

Reformers they’re called, really just hypocrites

Wolves with sheep skin in their identity kits

 

 

They might refuse to come out of the closet

But don’t burn this humble prophet

Who tells you the truth about high stakes tests

About the school system and the unholy mess

We’ve made for kids so hedge funders

Can bark and rave and push for blunders

To make money off of kids misery

And a better world – not for you, not for me.

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!


Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

book-2

Every Public School Teacher Should Support Opting Out of Standardized Tests

Education-not-testing-chicago-protest

 

Over the last few years, educators and parents have built up a wall of opposition to high stakes testing in the Opt Out movement.

 

But now it seems some teachers are starting to tear it down.

 

Not so long ago, tens of thousands of parents refused letting their children take the tests – with full support of their teachers.

 

Yet today you hear some educators question their involvement or even if they’re on the right side.

 

It’s almost like an anthropomorphic red pitcher smashed through the bricks and offered beat down educators a drink.

 

koolaidman1

 

And far from refusing that rancid brew, some are actually gulping it down.

 

“OHH YEAH!”

 

You hear things like these:

 

“Opt Out’s dead. Stealth assessment schemes like Personalized Learning and Competency Based Education have replaced the federally mandated tests.”

 

GLUG. GLUG. GLUG.

 

“The tests often take up fewer days now so there’s no reason to opt out.”

 

GLUG. GLUG. GLUG.

 

“The kids who opt out aren’t doing it for the right reasons. They just want to get out of work.”

 

GLUG. GLUG…

 

Blargh! I can’t drink any more of that artificially flavored propaganda crap!

 

I’ve even heard of some teachers in New York State agreeing to call families who have refused testing in the past and asking them to reconsider!

 

What the heck!? Have we all lost our minds!?

 

We’re educators!

 

If anyone knows the problems with standardized testing, it’s us.

 

We know in intimate detail how these assessments are biased and unscientific.

 

So let me counter some of this dangerous disinformation going around.

 

1) You say the tests take up less time?

 

Marginally, yes. There are fewer test days.

 

But we’re still being pressured to narrow the curriculum and teach to the test just about every other day!

 

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!

 

Yet standardized tests do all of these things!

 

They dishonestly give higher scores to rich kids and lower scores to poor kids.

 

The apps used for preparation and remediation often steal student data and sell it to third parties.

 

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?

 

We serve the parents and children of the community. If they say they don’t want their children tested in this way, we should listen to them.

 

Third, why are you defending these tests? They are used by charter and voucher schools as “proof” that the public schools are failing.

 

These tests are used to justify unfairly evaluating YOUR work, narrowing YOUR curriculum, repealing YOUR union protections, reducing YOUR autonomy, cutting YOUR funding, and ultimately laying YOU off.

 

Why are you standing up for THAT?

 

So why are some teachers wavering in their opposition to high stakes tests?

 

I think it has to do with who we are.

 

Most teachers are rule followers at heart. When we were in school, we were the obedient students. We were the people-pleasers. We got good grades, kept our heads down and didn’t make waves.

 

But the qualities that often make for the highest grades don’t often translate into action. That, alone, should tell you something about the limits of assessment which are only exacerbated by standardized test scores. When it comes to complex concepts, it’s hard to assess and even harder to determine if success on assessments is a predictor of future success.

 

Bottom line: Every teacher should be in favor of the Opt Out movement.

 

And I don’t mean quietly, secretly in favor. I mean publicly, vocally in favor.

 

Many teachers are parents, themselves, with children in the districts where they teach. Every educator should opt out their own children from the tests.

 

If we can’t at least do that and lead by example, what good are we?

 

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?

 

Imagine if every teachers union in the country routinely sent open letters to all parents asking them to opt their kids out! What an impact that would make!

 

Imagine if the unions put pressure on the school boards to pass resolutions against testing and in favor of opt out! What effect would that have on state legislatures and the federal government?

 

How could the feds continue to demand we give high stakes tests when nearly every school board across the country objected and advised parents to refuse testing for their children?

 

Taken individually, these aren’t really all that difficult things to do.

 

They require a certain degree of moral courage, to be sure. And teachers have been beaten down by a society that devalues their work and begrudges them just about everything.

 

But what do we have to lose?

 

Our backs are already against the wall.

 

We are being slowly erased – our numbers dwindle more every year while policymakers shrug and point to a teacher shortage that they refuse to explain by reference to the way we’re treated.

 

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.)

 

We shouldn’t be helping them destroy our own profession by advocating for the same tests they’re using as a tool in our destruction.

 

It’s high time teachers get some backbone.

 

We may all end up on the unemployment line, but that’s where we’re headed already.

 

I’d rather go kicking and screaming.

 

Who’s with me?

I Wrote a Book! Yeah. I Can’t Believe It Either.

book-4

 

How did this happen?

It was only three and a half years ago that I sat down at my computer and decided to write my first blog.

And now I’ve got a book coming out from Garn Press “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”

Like the title says, I’m just a public school teacher. I’m not important enough to write a book.

A blog? Sure. That could disappear any day now.

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.

 

front-cover

 

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.

 

ebook-1

 

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.

Yet my blog has 1,184,000 hits. I’ve got 12,545 followers on Twitter and via email. And now – a book.

So, let me propose a theory: the people at Garn Press are just incredibly nice.

Denny, David and Benjamin Taylor are just fulfilling one of those Make a Wish thingies for a downtrodden soul like me.

Maybe I’ve got some sort of debilitating disease and no one’s told me yet.

 

book-2

 

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.

But whatever.

I’ll die with a smile on my face.

It reminds me of a few lines from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

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.

 

book-1

 

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.

So I became an activist, too.

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.

 

book-3

 

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.

ebook-2 (1)

(Oh! And a special shout out to Denisha Jones and Yohuru Williams for writing incredible introductions to the book! I am beyond honored!)


UPDATE:

The book is now available for purchase at Amazon.com. Just click here!

I am also donating 10% of all proceeds to the Badass Teachers Association. 

Will the REAL Grassroots Activists Please Stand Up – Teachers or School Privatization Lobbyists?

Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 5.07.37 PM

 

Everyone claims to be grassroots.

 

We’re the ordinary people – they say – the Hoi Polloi, the everyday Joes and Janes who make the world go round.

 

Which is to say we’re NOT the wealthy elite who get what they want simply by buying lawmakers and the political process.

 

You’d think the plutocrats wouldn’t even bother hiding. After all, it should be pretty obvious who is who.

 

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.

 

One side actively lobbies for big business and huge corporations to take over local schools and districts. The other supports neighborhood schools.

 

One side pushes for schools to be striped of local control and instead to be managed by private equity firms and corporate officers. The other supports democratically elected school boards.

 

One side demands taxpayer dollars be available as profit that they can pocket and spend on mansions, yachts and jewelry. The other fights for transparency and for all taxpayer funds to be used in the service of educating children.

 

Which side do you THINK represents the little guy and which represents Goliath? Which side do you THINK represents the Rebel Alliance and which the Galactic Empire?

 

Come on now!

 

It’s the public school advocates who represent the common people. They are literally an extension of the masses struggle to reassert control over their lives and our society. Not those looking to raid our public services for fun and profit!

 

People get kind of upset when you try to do that. So when the villagers show up with torches and pitchforks, it does little good to argue that money equals speech. Better for the aristocrats to disguise themselves in peasant garb.

 

Enter Jeanne Allen.

 

She wants to convince you she’s the real underdog grassroots champion.

 

As Chief Executive Officer and Founder of the Center for Education Reform, she’s spent most of her career lobbying for public schools to be gobbled up by private enterprise.

 

So when the folks behind a new documentary about school privatization, “Backpack Full of Cash,” had the gall to cast her and her organization as the bad guy, she did what any grassroots activist would – she called the Hollywood Reporter.

 

Why would anyone be against charter and voucher schools, she whined. They just suck away necessary funds from the already underfunded neighborhood school so that businesspeople can play with your tax money. They just cut services for children and parents while miraculously transforming the savings into yummy profit.

 

I can’t imagine why anyone is calling her out. Can you?

 

But perhaps the most pernicious aspect of her argument is monetary.

 

Allen, the Center for Education Reform and the entire corporate education reform movement are the real grassroots, she says, because they are outspent by the opposition.

 

By which she means teachers unions. As if the overwhelming majority of parents, students, social scientists, civil rights activists and concerned citizens somehow didn’t count.

 

But oh well.

 

“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 turns out the figure Allen uses is a stale conservative talking point that Poltifact, a non-partisan fact checking Website, rated as false.

 

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.

 

In the real world, where Fox News talking points aren’t accepted without question, it’s increasingly difficult to determine exactly how much organizations spend on politics. But it’s incredibly doubtful teachers unions have the monetary might attributed to them by corporate school reformers.

 

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.

 

A quick look at Allen’s backers at the Center for Education Reform includes some of the richest people on Earth including: Bill and Melinda Gates, the Walton Family and Eli Broad.

 

And this woman has the nerve to cry poor in comparison to the big bad teachers!

 

Herself, she draws a six-figure salary as the organization’s President Emeritus – well more than the overwhelming majority of teachers.

 

But you’ll still find corporate reformers who contest this analysis with creative accounting. They’ll give you a spreadsheet with hundreds of millions of union dollars laid bare compared with a handful of poor billionaires who just can’t scrape together enough change in the couch cushions. And to do so, they’ll hide the super richs’ donations to super PACs or exclude dark money contributions, etc.

 

Look, I’m not saying our campaign finance system is perfect. In fact, it’s pretty messed up.

 

I am the first person to advocate for getting money out of politics. No more defining money as speech. One person, one vote.

 

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.

 

We’re talking the richest 1% of people on the planet backing charter and voucher schools versus teachers, parents, students, college professors, civil rights activists and concerned citizens backing public schools.

 

Which group do you think truly represents the grassroots?

 

Which group is an authentic demonstration of the will of the people?

 

And which is emblematic of the arrogant, hypocritical wealth class demanding we all bow down to the power of their pocketbooks?

 

You decide.

I Was Blocked From Facebook for Criticizing School Privatization

facebook

 

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
-George Orwell

 

I have had many strange experiences as an education blogger.

People have adapted my writing into a play.

People have written to express a sincere desire for my death.

I’ve had a teacher send me pictures of essays his composition students wrote in response to one of my articles.

 
And I’ve had people email my workplace demanding I be fired.

I guess Internet fame is a mixed bag.

But after more than three years of blogging about education and social justice issues while teaching in the public school system, there’s one thing I’ve never experienced before: censorship.

This is social media, after all.

I’ve got no advertisers to please, no editor breathing down my neck. I can write whatever I want.

That’s the benefit of being a blogger. No one can stop you from telling the truth.

Well, no one except Facebook, apparently.

For the first time in my blogging career, I was blocked from Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking platform because I had the audacity to post my blog to it.

Now keep in mind I’ve been doing just that every week since July, 2014.

Moreover, the article I posted was in no way different from my previous work.

The article is called “School Choice is a Lie. It Does Not Mean More Options. It Means Less.” You can read it HERE

But almost as soon as I posted it to the Facebook page I keep for my blog, Gadfly on the Wall, I got a message saying I was blocked for a week for “violating community standards.”

What community, exactly, is that?

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.

He’s a big fan of school privatization. Perhaps he changed Facebook guidelines to crack down on people like me who throw shade on his pet school reforms.
Or maybe my work was targeted because I’m critical of President Donald Trump. I did, after all, write an article this week called “Donald Trump is a Pathetic Excuse For a Human Being” that includes a picture of the chief executive as a poop emoji.

 

Or maybe it was the National Rifle Association (NRA). The article before the school privatization piece was called “Guns and Profit – Why We’ll Do Absolutely Nothing New After This Las Vegas Shooting.” It was picked up by Commondreams.org, the LA Progressive and other left-leaning sites. Perhaps the firearms lobby had had enough.

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?

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.

See you in a week.

Live from Facebook Jail,

The Gadfly on the Wall

#FreeGadfly