Announcing our *new* Early Childhood Activist ToolKit

Today we are pleased to announce the launching of our Early Childhood Activist Toolkit. The ToolKit has both Informational Resources and Action Resources. It also includes information about our new Action Mini Grant Initiative!

We have heard from many of you who are working hard to keep developmentally appropriate teaching, learning and assessing in our early childhood classrooms. We prepared the ToolKit to assist you with your very important efforts. As we know, current education reform is often working against these goals.

Please visit our website and let us know what you think – your feedback is valuable. This ToolKit is a direct result of our sessions at NAEYC’s Annual Conference (National Association for the Education of Young Children) in November, and we have been working hard to answer your call.

The shaping of the ToolKit will be an ongoing process, and your input is key. If you have thoughts on other items to add, please let us know.

DEY’s Action Mini Grant Initiative
We are excited to offer a mini grant initiative to help foster your good work in your community as related to DEY’s three principle goals:

  • To mobilize the early childhood community to speak out with well-reasoned arguments against inappropriate standards, assessments, and classroom practices.
  • To track the effects of new standards, especially those linked to the Common Core State Standards, on early childhood education policy and practice.
  • To promote appropriate practices in early childhood classrooms and support educators in counteracting current reforms which undermine these appropriate practices.

We are offering grants from $200.00 to $500.00. We will begin accepting applications on a rolling basis beginning February 1, 2014. Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and up to 20 awards will be granted (depending on grant sizes). Possible actions include, but are not limited to:

  • Hosting a parent information meeting
  • Organizing a Call Your Legislator Day
  • Spearheading a letter writing campaign to politicians
  • Organizing a “Play-In” at the local school board
  • Publicizing an “Opt Out” campaign
  • See our website for more ideas…

Looking back at “A Year at Mission Hill”

“What can the larger world of American education take away from one school’s experiences?”

A Year at Mission Hill was filmed by Tom and Amy Valens (of August to June fame) during the 2011-2012 school year. Mission Hill School is a progressive public school in Boston serving about 200 students. This series, which includes 10 chapters, brings the viewer inside the school to meet teachers, students, families and community members. Most of all, it helps us to remember what is possible in public schools. Each chapter comes with a wealth of resources under the categories of “Watch”, “Read, “Listen” and “Do”.

A Year at Mission Hill was produced by Sam Chaltain with support from Ashoka, IDEA, and the NoVo Foundation.  The series website describes it this way: “Ten videos. One year. A public school trying to help children learn and grow. The national conversation we need to be having.”

Here is more on A Year at Mission Hill from the Start Empathy website:

The first chapter of the film was released on January 31, 2013 simultaneously by dozens of partner organizations – networks, youth programs, foundations, journals, non-profit organizations, and schools – all committed to the need for a new story about education to emerge. This new story shows what is possible when a committed group of educators, young people, and parents come together to build a powerful educational community rooted in engagement, justice, and collaboration. And this new story is not confined to Mission Hill. It’s happening in schools and communities around the country (and around the world).

Starting with that release in January, each new chapter was shared every two weeks until the 10th and final episode aired on June 6th. As of today, there have been over 350,000 views of the Mission Hill film and accompanying resources, including 40,000 views of the film chapters on YouTube, an estimated 100,000 additional views through public and private screenings, and 200,000 views of the amazing Year at Mission Hill Prezi (be sure to check it out if you haven’t yet!).

The film series has sparked public conversation far and wide in schools and communities, among educators and parents and policy-makers, and across social media on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. And now the film-makers Amy and Tom Valens are hard at work adapting the footage to an hour-long documentary titled Good Morning Mission Hill.

Here at DEY our connection to A Year at Mission Hill runs deep. Mission Hill School’s founding principal, Deborah Meier, is on our National Board of Advisers. The current principal, Ayla Gavins, is also on our National Board of Advisers. I am the director of DEY and also a founding teacher (and current preschool teacher) at Mission Hill School. As I watch these videos again, and then review the vast wealth of resources connected with each chapter, I am reminded how strong our movement is and I  am energized to stay in the fight to defend public education. I urge you to view these videos and share them in your community – and help change the national education conversation.

Top tips for activists

Today’s guest blogger is Karel Kilimnik. Karel is a recently retired early childhood teacher in Philadelphia, PA. Karel has spent her life working with young children and their families in some capacity. She earned her early childhood degree at Temple University and began working at the School District of Philadelphia where she found a home learning and teaching for over 20 years. Karel was active in the union and had a firm commitment to infusing everything with a sense of social justice and peace. When she retired a mere four years ago Karel became a full time education activist working to save public education. Karel says: “Every day I woke up to find something else evil being announced as private interests seek to take over public education from closing 32 schools to outsourcing almost 2,000 Head Start placements, to laying off all school counselors. I co-founded an activist organization, the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) with another retired teacher. We have been relentless in following the money in Philadelphia. Decisions are getting made behind closed doors with little pretense of involving the public. These decision makers are the only ones with any money to spend as the governor of Pennsylvania has stripped $1 billion dollars from the state K-12 education budget during his first years in office (as he somehow found $400 million to put into building a new prison right outside of Philadelphia).  Corporate interests masking themselves as philanthropic entities are helping themselves to our public schools and seeking to destroy public education. We must organize ourselves to fight back.”

At our session for early childhood activists at NAEYC’s Annual Conference in November, Karel shared her top tips for activists. We asked Karel for permission to share her tips here:

Tips for Activists

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead

  1. Find like-minded people
  2. Food always helps people connect so bring in muffins or cookies.  Have tea & coffee readily available
  3. Do something fun together. Go see a movie or to a concert or an art exhibit.
  4. Put one foot in front of the other – take small steps and always, always celebrate your wins no matter how small they may seem.
  5. Do your research so that you are prepared.
  6. Support each other. Kindness begets more of the same.
  7. Be persistent. Do not give up. Oftentimes your opponents will respect you for your integrity and persistence even if you are always opposing them. Do not mistake attempts to subvert you for respect – a fine line to walk.
  8. Be positive. Look at what is possible. For this you need to know what you believe in.
  9. Talk with people. Collect business cards. Talk with the reporters who cover education.  They may come to see you as a reliable source of information.
  10. Change the conversation. For example, instead of their talk about high performing schools, change it to, “Every school a great school.” Instead of choice always meaning a charter school, change it to choice meaning good neighborhood schools. Act like a toddler and repeat this over and over and over again.

Thanks to Karel for sharing her strategies! To learn more, check out Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools on Facebook. You can also view a powerful video. Activists and the Media Mobilizing Project TV in Philadelphia, PA have produced the video Our Schools Are Not For Sale. “This is the story of Philadelphia’s teachers, parents, students, and communities who are fighting for public schools that are well-resourced, high-quality and available to all. Watch how local communities are responding to a year of unprecedented attacks, including the closing of 24 schools, layoffs of hundreds of teachers and counselors, and the elimination of school libraries, art, music, and sports programs.”

A tough critique of Teaching Strategies GOLD

Here is another excellent example of a teacher pushing back against corporate ed reform! Please check out the blog “Peg with Pen” – written by Peg Robinson, an early childhood teacher and activist in Colorado. In her post Do Not Go for the GOLD (Teaching Strategies GOLD) for Early Childhood Classrooms, Peg expertly describes all the problems around this newly-mandated assessment system: the thousands of minute data points she is required to enter in to the system; the uploading of personal information on each child that has the potential of being shared; the time and cost; the way GOLD transforms the teacher into a data manager; and more. Here are a few snippets, to get you started (and I urge you to read the post in its entirety):

“GOLD claims to assess the whole child for preschool and kindergarten on a developmental continuum starting at birth and ending at age five. It assesses Social-Emotional, Physical, Language, Cognitive, Literacy, Mathematics, Science & Technology, Social Studies, The Arts, and English Language Acquisition. Teaching Strategies GOLD offers lessons, opportunities for families to participate and much more. It will soon expand to include first through third grade. It is aligned with common core. It has been around since 1988. I want to state that it most likely was created with good intentions, however, it has morphed into something that screams corporate education reform.
 
GOLD is mandated to be used by all publicly funded preschools and kindergartens in Colorado. It is used in many other states as well, but my knowledge is based on Colorado, as my home state. Most Colorado districts are piloting it this year, and it will reach full implementation in the 2014-2015 school year.  Currently, it is paid for in part by a RTTT federal grant, but this money will run out shortly.”
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“GOLD is not ‘bad’ in the sense that it is assessing things it shouldn’t assess. Its danger, and the reason for parents to refuse it, lies in how it intrudes, erases, robs, and reshapes student learning, teacher instruction and the culture of public schools.
 
We must take into account the extreme detail of this system.  GOLD does not just share a number. It shares very detailed, very personal information about children. Now, some might say that the data is NOT being shared. That’s fine. But my response is this – when data is uploaded to a system it is guaranteed that it is uploaded in order to share it more easily with others. Much of the GOLD data is information that previously was shared privately with the parents and key adults within the individual school community.”
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To parents, Robertson writes:
“REFUSE the GOLD.  It will rob your child’s teacher and your child of precious time. Even if your child’s teacher enters GOLD data when your child is not at school, it has stilled robbed your child of what his/her teacher would have done with that planning time previous to serving as a data manager for the corporations.  Finally, protect your child’s privacy. Your child is now a data generator and your child’s teacher is a data manager – refuse GOLD and they can relinquish those roles.
 
I am not a data manager. I am a teacher. I am an excellent kindergarten teacher. And I will not be subjected to such insanity involving thousands of data points coupled with detailed information about students – all housed online to benefit the corporate regime we now have in place.
 
I don’t trust the GOLD. At first glance, it appears innocent. I am sure that many involved in GOLD have very good intentions – I have no doubt about that. In reality, GOLD is the future of public education in which teacher as data manager will gather detailed information about children and dutifully upload all of it to serve the corporations. I fear for our children and how this information will follow them through out their lives while narrowing and controlling their learning opportunities and eventually their careers as adults. GOLD is one more piece which lends itself to the destruction of our democracy while appearing to support learners and teachers.”
Robertson also has drafted a letter for parents who want to opt out of the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment system. Check out the template for the opt out letter here. Are you required to use the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment? How are you dealing with it?

National Day of Action ~ December 9th

RYH_logo-324x324Have you heard about the “National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education” on December 9th? Here in Boston, there will be a town hall meeting hosted by students, families, educators, labor and community members. This is part of a national event and is evidence of the growing voice of resistance to the current trends of corporate-driven education reform.  From the press release:

On December 9th parents, students, educators and community leaders across the country will raise their hands and demand more for America’s children. On the National Day of Action: Raise Your Hand for our Schools and our Solutions communities will demand that those who know students best devise and implement community-driven solutions to tackle the opportunity gaps in American education.

The day of action is an outgrowth of ongoing collaboration among the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and several key community partners to mobilize support for public education, pushing back against the corporate takeover of our public schools and lifting up the voices of practitioners and communities about what is best for our students.

Together, the groups have developed “The Principles that Unite Us” (PDF icon PDF, 898 KB, 4 pgs.)—a common vision for public education. It stands in sharp contrast to the corporate agenda for public schools, market driven reform that attempts to impose a system of winners and losers. More than 100 community groups and unions (PDF icon PDF, 23 KB, 1 pg.) have already endorsed the principles.

The National Day of Action—coordinated public actions organized by community and union partners in cities across the country— will be followed by multicity and multistate campaigns and larger actions in the spring.”

On the Education Votes website, there is a toolkit for organizing, and many other resources. This day of action is just a week away – and an excellent chance to join in local actions that are connected to a national movement. Education Votes says:

  • We are saying YES to teaching kids to be critical thinkers; NO to teaching them to fill bubble tests.
  • We are saying YES to reducing class sizes; NO to cutting school budgets and allowing kids to fall through the cracks.
  • We are saying YES to investing in our children’s future; NO to corporate tax breaks and underfunded schools.
  • We are saying YES to ensuring every child has a quality teacher; NO to replacing teachers with computer screens and ESPs with private companies.

Find out how you can get involved – and for more information about the Day of Action check out Education Votes.

NAEYC’s Annual Conference Update

Back now from Washington, DC and beginning to reflect on all that happened. Here are just a few initial thoughts — and more soon.

Diane lets everyone in the packed hall know about DEY's efforts!

Diane lets everyone in the packed hall know about DEY’s efforts!

There were some encouraging indicators. Quite exciting was the turnout for DEY Senior Adviser Diane Levin’s featured session Beyond Remote-Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age. The massive room was filled – the estimate was at least 1,000 people in attendance.  Diane explained the many ways in which young children are affected by popular culture and exposure to media. She shared successful strategies for working with children and families. In her speech Diane called for creating schools that take into account who today’s children are – and to much applause she questioned current misguided school reform.

Many thanks to Community Playthings for sponsoring this important session! If you missed the session and want to know more, Diane’s book is available through the NAEYC online bookstore.

Many thanks also to the early childhood teacher activists who joined us at our session Finding Your Voice: Becoming A Teacher Activist, and for our evening meeting at The Henley Park Hotel. You shared your stories and your ideas – and we learned as much from you as you (hopefully!) learned from us. It was encouraging to finally meet many of you in person, after having met only online until now. DEY will be working to follow up on the ideas shared, and so please stay tuned.

In the opening session it was heartening to hear NAEYC’s new executive director Rhian Evans Allvin encourage attendees to go out and vote.  Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Green Party…whatever your political inclination is: vote! Voting is one way for early childhood educators to use their voices. As this new bill, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act gains traction, it will be our voices that help to keep what is best for children at the center.

Finally, although I wasn’t able to attend the session, I heard great things about a reflection on advocacy from folks who have been working for high-quality early childhood education for decades – folks like Joan Lombardi and Marcy Whitebook.

Those are a few initial reflections…more will be forthcoming. Please feel free to add your own reflections and/or questions…