Early Learning: This is Not a Test – printed in today’s NY Times!

Nancy Carlsson-Paige has co-authored an important op-ed piece with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Early Learning: This is Not a Test speaks to our nation’s increased focus on early childhood education – and acknowledges that “what is being required of young children is unreasonable and developmentally unsound.”
Among other suggestions, Carlsson-Paige and Weingarten stress that we must “Address questions about the appropriateness and the implementation of the Common Core standards for young learners by convening a task force of early childhood and early elementary educators to review the standards and recommend developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive guidelines for supporting young children’s optimal learning.”

The momentum of resistance to the Common Core State Standards and high-stakes testing is growing, as we highlighted in a recent DEY blog post. We urge you to share Early Learning: This is Not a Test far and wide as resistance continues to build.

Susan Ohanian speaks up for young children

In the midst of current education policies that are harmful to young children, Susan Ohanian is a champion of young children, teachers, and developmentally appropriate education. You may remember she wrote What Happened to Recess and Why are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten in 2002. During the past decade, education policies have increased the testing and decreased the play in young children’s lives. Still, Ohanian fights on. Here, at the Edu4 conference, she brilliantly sums up the current state of early education and helps unpack how we’ve gotten here.

We urge you to view Ohanian’s video – along with a collection of other inspiring and provocative videos – on the Reclaiming the Conversation on Education website. From their website:

On May 4, 2013, teachers, parents, students, scholars, and administrators gathered together at Barnard College in the city of New York to work toward the common goal of reclaiming the conversation on education. In the one day conference, they shared their experiences with educational “reforms”, imagined equitable and sustainable alternatives, built coalitions and supported resistance to the standardization, privatization and corporate take-over of education. These series of video interviews tell the story of the educators, scholars, leaders, parents, and activists in their fight for education reform. Watch, and join us in continuing the conversation.

 

Open Letter to Senator Tom Harkin

Diane Ravitch posted this letter on her blog…and is hoping it goes viral. This powerful letter is written by Paul Horton, a history teacher. And we share Ravitch’s and Horton words here to help spread the word. Here is the full text of Horton’s original letter.

From Ravitch’s blog…

Horton asked whether the senator was aware of the corporate influence on Race to the Top and the Common Core standards.

Horton told the senator that critics of these programs are not extremists:

“In fact…critics of the RTTT mandates and the CCS come from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. In the national education debate, the status quo agenda that is being pushed comes from the corporate middle of both parties that is backed by many of those who have been the biggest beneficiaries of the current economic “recovery” in Seattle, Silicon Valley, and Manhattan (and Westchester County) and large foundations.”

Horton urges Senator Harkin to call Secretary Duncan to a hearing to testify under oath and answer the following questions:

“How many of your staffers have worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? Who are they, and why did you hire them?

“What role did these staffers and Bill Gates have on the formulation of the RTTT mandates?

“How much classroom teaching experience do the principal authors of the RTTT mandates have, individually, and as a group?

“Why are these individuals qualified to make decisions about education policy?

“Were you, or anyone who works within the Department of Education in contact with any representative or lobbyist representing Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill, or InBloom before or during the writing of the RTTT mandates?

“What is the Broad Foundation? What is your connection to the Broad Foundation? What education policies does the Broad Foundation support? How do these policies support public education? How do these policies support private education? What was the role of the Broad Foundation in the creation of the RTTT mandates?

“How many individuals associated with the Broad Foundation helped author the report, “Smart Options: Investing Recovery Funds for Student Success” that was published in April of 2009 and served as a blueprint for the RTTT mandates? How many representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation assisted in writing this report? What was their role in authoring this report? How many representatives of McKinsey Consulting participated in authoring this report? What was David Coleman’s role in authoring this report?

“Do you know David Coleman? Have you ever had any conversations with David Coleman? Has anyone on your staff had any conversations with David Coleman? Did anyone within the Department of Education have any connection to any of the authors of the Common Core Standards? Did anyone in your Department have any conversations with any of the authors of the Common Core Standards as they were being written?

“Have you ever had any conversations with representatives or lobbyists who represent the Walton Family Foundation? Has anyone on your staff had any conversations with the Walton Family Foundation or lobbyists representing the Walton Family Foundation? If so, what was the substance of those conversations?

“Do you know Michelle Rhee? If so, could you describe your relationship with Michelle Rhee? Have you, or anyone working within the Department of Education, had any conversations with Students First, Rhee’s advocacy group, about the dispersal foundation funds for candidates in local and state school board elections?

“This is just a start. Public concerns about possible collusion between the Department of Education and education corporations could be addressed with a few straightforward answers to these and other questions.

“Every parent, student, and teacher in the country is concerned about the influence of corporate vendors on education policy. What is represented as an extreme movement by our Education Secretary can be more accurately described as a consumer revolt against shoddy products produced by an education vendor biopoly (Pearson and McGraw Hill). Because these two vendors have redefined the education marketplace to meet the requirements of RTTT, they both need to be required to write competitive impact statements for the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice.”

This is an extraordinary letter. Please read it. Send it to your friends. Send it to everyone on your email list. tweet it. These are questions that should be answered by the Secretary, under oath, in public hearings.

American education is being radically reconstituted and centralized, with little or no democratic deliberation. The public hears bland assurances about “high standards for all,” “college and career readiness for all,” and other unproven claims and assertions about sweeping changes that have not been subject to trial or open debate or careful review.

Horton asks tough questions. The American public deserves real answers–not flowery rhetoric– about who made the decisions to reconstruct the nation’s education system, with what evidence, and for whose benefit.

Fighting the Good Fight

Here at DEY we are always happy to share news of parents, teachers and citizens standing up – to fight back against high-stakes testing and the corporate takeover of education.

On April 17th in Chicago, a group of parents, educators and children staged a “Play In” at Chicago Public Schools headquarters as a way to advocate for more appropriate curricula in Chicago’s early childhood classrooms. This inspiring event had one central message:  “less tests, more play”. Read here to learn how bubbles, play dough and puzzles can be used in a peaceful (even joyful!) protest.

In The Atlantic, John Tierney writes The Coming Revolution in Public Education. His article expertly outlines the criticisms of the current reform movement:

“… the reforms have self-interest and profit motives, not educational improvement, as their basis; corporate interests are reaping huge benefits from these reform initiatives and spending millions of dollars lobbying to keep those benefits flowing; three big foundations (Gates, Broad, and Walton Family) are funding much of the backing for the corporate reforms and are spending billions to market and sell reforms that don’t work; ancillary goals of these reforms are to bust teacher unions, disempower educators, and reduce spending on public schools; standardized testing is enormously expensive in terms both of public expenditures and the diversion of instruction time to test prep; over a third of charter schools deliver “significantly worse” results for students than the traditional public schools from which they were diverted; and, finally, that these reforms have produced few benefits and have actually caused harm, especially to kids in disadvantaged areas and communities of color.”

…as well as the ground swell of resistance! Check out the entire article here. It is a must read.

And one more thing…here is a letter of resignation from Gerald J. Conti, a social studies teacher at Westhill High School in Syracuse, N.Y. His letter was posted by Valerie Strauss on her blog, The Answer Sheet. Conti’s eloquent words and scathing review of the current education system help to paint the picture of what is happening to quality education in our country. “After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists.”

Barbara Beatty writes for the Huffington Post: The Looming Fight Over Obama’s Pre-K Plan: It’s Not Just About the Money

Barbara Beatty, professor of education at Wellesley College, recently wrote a piece Huffington Post. Her article, The Looming Fight Over Obama’s Pre-K Plan: It’s Not Just About the Money, looks some of the critical issues that DEY is working on.See below:

“Some educators now worry that Obama’s pressure on states to adopt the new national Common Core State Standards that mandate academic content and accompanying tests — which win points in U. S. Department of Education Race to the Top grant applications — will harm young children. Members of the Alliance for Childhood, Defending the Early Years, and others protest that forcing what they see as developmentally inappropriate academic content onto five-year-olds will turn kindergarten into the new First Grade. Teaching and testing academic skills will be pushed down even further, into pre-kindergarten. Already on the wane, time for unstructured “free” play from which children thrive educationally and learn important social lessons about cooperation and sharing, values necessary for citizens in a democracy, may almost disappear.”

Click here to read the entire article: The Looming Fight Over Obama’s Pre-K Plan: It’s Not Just About the Money.

Courageous in Seattle

There is a bit of a standardized testing revolt brewing in Seattle! About a week ago, the teachers at Garfield High School voted unanimously to boycott the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test. Soon after, the teachers at Ballard High School joined them. Will more follow? DEY shares this story in an effort to inspire other educators to stand up against policies that are harmful to children.

You can read about the MAP boycott in the words of teacher Jessie Hagopian, who writes,

WALKING the same halls once trod by Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Bruce Lee, Brandon Roy and Macklemore makes teaching at Garfield High School exhilarating.

When I look at the students in my history classes, I see young people who may be the next to turn the world inside out. Garfield has a long tradition of cultivating abstract thinking, lyrical innovation, trenchant debate, civic leadership, moral courage and myriad other qualities for which our society is desperate, yet which cannot be measured, or inspired, by bubbling answer choice “E.”

Garfield teachers voted last week, without a single “no” vote, to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, test on ethical and professional grounds. Our student government and PTSA both voted to support us.

Why did we take this stand, now, against this test?

I graduated from Garfield in 1997, went to college, did Teach for America in Washington, D.C., came home, got my masters in teaching at the University of Washington and returned to teach in the “Dog House.”

The standardized tests I took as a student at Garfield were moments of great misery, because they made me feel unintelligent. I had talents, but there were no test questions on whether I could play piano, coach my little sister in pitching, or identify a problem in my community that needed action and write a letter to the editor about it.

Read the entire piece here, in The Seattle Times.

Take a few moments to the comments posted after Hagopian’s piece.  A number of them are from elementary teachers who are also unimpressed with the MAP test for their grade level.

For example:

As an elementary school teacher in SPS, I applaud the staff at Garfield for doing what most of us would have loved to do several years ago. There are other flaws that impact students at the elementary level and I haven’t read them much in comments on the blogs and sites that offer stories this week and last to this boycott. I would love to share.
The test is stressful to little children. High readers in intermediate grades (3-5) will be asked questions that really throw them for a loop. Once a student of mine got irritated with the test and started writing everything down that the test was asking her that she didn’t know. There were 11 items. They included alliteration, iambic pentameter, and personification. These are not things that enrich the life of a 9 year old.

and

Elementary aged children have their reading assessed via the DRA. This assessment is done one to one between student and teacher. I’ve found the results to be more reliable than placing a 5 or 6 year old child in front of a self administered computer exam (MAP). Elementary aged children are also given MAP three times a year to assess math and reading. At the end of the year, one week after MAP testing, students in grades 3-5 take the MSP for reading and math.

As Hagopian sums up:

Garfield’s teachers are preparing students for the real-life tests they will face, and reject the computer multiple-choice rituals that fail to measure grade-level content — not to mention character, commitment, courage or talent.

The boycotts in Seattle are important, as Race to TheTop and the Common Core State Standards are bringing even more computer-administered standardized tests to our classrooms. DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige has published a personal message of support (along with her son, Matt Damon) to the teachers of Garfield High. To show support to the Garfield teachers, DEY encourages you to write to their school board and the superintendent. (Thanks to Susan Ohanian for the contact information listed below.)

superintendent@seattleschools.org

schoolboard@seattleschools.org

You can also write to the teachers whose names have appeared in the news.

Kit McCormick (English teacher)
Jesse Hagopian (History teacher)
Mario Shaunette (Math teacher)

Garfield High School
400 23rd Ave.
Seattle, WA 98122

Retired librarian takes action in Boston

The following letter ran in the December 12th edition of the Boston Globe. See below how grandmother, and retired librarian, Lani Gerson, responds to school funding cuts and her own grandchild’s experience in kindergarten. We share the letter in hopes that her words will inspire others write their own letters that will help shine a spotlight on the current misguided school “reforms.”

School funding priorities are misplaced
DECEMBER 12, 2012
MY HEART sank when I read “Patrick targets local aid to
help cover budget gap” (Metro, Dec. 5), reporting further
reductions in state funding of schools. My grandson had just
come home from kindergarten, sadly reporting that he
couldn’t take out a book during his class’s weekly library
visit. There wasn’t anyone to check out the books.
That’s because, as a result of budget cuts, his school no
longer has a library teacher. She has been replaced with
volunteers. If no volunteer shows up, no books are checked
out.

At a time when children are not supposed to be left behind,
when schools are being badgered to race to the top, when
students are constantly “assessed” and tested (at no small
expense), funding for schools is continually cut.
How are children supposed to get invested in learning to
read when they can’t even check out a book from their
school library?

And then, if my grandson fails to pass reading tests, his
teachers will be punished, not the political officials and
supposed education experts who are taking schools down
this dangerous route.

Lani Gerson
Watertown
The writer is a retired librarian in the Newton Public Schools.

Does Common Core Affect Pre-K?

Quote

Today on Diane Ravitch’s blog, DEY’s Senior Adviser Nancy Carlsson-Paige weighs in on the Common Core as it relates to preschool.

Hi Diane,

 It’s hard to put your finger on the pulse of what is really going on in early childhood right now, and for good reason.  There are big differences among states, school systems, and individual programs.  But there are also trends that are affecting the early childhood field as a whole, and they are most strongly felt in programs that are State and Federally funded.

There is an increasing pushdown of academic skills into Kindergartens and Pre-K’s.  The Alliance for Childhood first identified the disappearance of play in Kindergartens a few years ago.  Wrongly, the erosion of play-based learning in Kindergartens has now become the norm and is currently filtering into Pre-K’s around the country. This academic focus for young kids is driven by RTTT priorities and the Common Core Standards.  The Common Core extends to kindergarten and requires children to learn specific facts and skills in literacy and numeracy at specified ages.  For RTTT early childhood money, states have to agree to “align with the Common Core”.  These mandates are not based on the knowledge base of the early childhood field, on what is known about how young children learn best.  Those who wrote them are out of touch with young children and what quality programs should offer.

For the full text of Nancy’s post, click here.