Diversity and America’s Generation Gap

RuthOn July 7th, our newest member to DEY’s National Advisory Board, Ruth Rodriguez-Fay, made the following speech at the First Focus Summit that was held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Today we are honored to share her powerful words, with permission from Rodriguez-Fay.

 

Diversity and America’s Generation Gap

Ruth Rodriguez-Fay  ~ Diversity Adviser of Save Our Schools

“If you don’t understand the journey of those you serve, you cannot be an advocate for justice.” – Mary Bacon

 

Mary’s quote above is essential to this presentation that I have been honored to share today.  It is critical because of the present day infusion of Corporate America into the design and construct of our public schools.  It is also more so, because those who have set their goal into restructuring our public schools have chosen to isolate certified educators, child development experts and families whose stakes are high in ensuring our children success. Instead, we have everyone from billionaires, hedge funds moguls, real estate investors positioning themselves as the saviors of what they have come to label as “failing” schools.  They have used their $$power to influence legislators into passing an education reform that goes against what we educators have been trained to do.  The disrespect to the teaching profession, especially those of us educators of color, has been unprecedented. No other profession has received such attacks as teachers have, such blatant attacks by non-educators on our ability to do what we have spent our lifetime career mastering.

The Billionaires and hedge funds moguls have waged a war against public education, especially harmful to communities of color, never seen since a century ago, when a similar attempt by Corporate was made. The nation’s largest lobbyists, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), looking for profit ventures for their investors, determined that public education was a multi-trillion investment opportunity just waiting to be tapped; and they wasted little time to begin to concoct a business-model, profit-making endeavor masquerading as education reform with business, factory-style measure, one that these bandits will never consider subjecting their own children.  My friend, today’s leading respected civil rights advocate, Rose Saunders, almost brought me to tears when she declared that, “this is the worst war ever fought on American soil, for neither the civil war, nor the war for civil rights can compare, for the casualties of this war are our precious children.”

I was hopeful when Governor Deval Patrick of MA announced his Readiness Project, seeking advice on his education policies.  I was honored to serve on his Massachusetts Comprehensive and Assessment System (MCAS) and Assessment initiative, hoping to have the opportunity to present an alternative to the damaging high-stake test forced upon all the children, one that had killed the dreams of so many children who were denied a high school diploma based on this single test.  Learning that our alternative recommendations were denied, and the state would continue with the MCAS, I confronted the Governor at his event at Framingham State University, in an audience of over 300 people, I said face to face, “Governor, I thank you for giving the opportunity to serve in your Readiness Project on MCAS and Assessment.  I am saddened that you did not accept our recommendation for alternative form of assessment, and have made the decision to continue the harmful test.  But, I challenge anyone in this room, including you Governor, to immerse yourself in Spanish for one year, then take the test in Spanish, for that Governor, is what you are asking English language learners to do.” One year of English immersion was all that former Governor Mitt Romney believed English language learners needed to compete with their English speaking counterparts; as a result, MA has continued to demand that all students must take the test, and if they fail, they do not receive a diploma.  That night Governor Patrick promised that he will look into this and pointed me to one of his staff. Unfortunately, MA English language learners still are subjected to the test!

Let us look at how one goes about privatizing public education?  First, you manufacture a crisis and instill public fear.  We saw in the Hollywood propaganda, Guggenheim’s Waiting for Superman, where teachers were blamed for everything that is wrong in the country, and posed schools and the students as “failures”, who needed to be rescued, this time by a business-style intervention.  Create a rallying cry for the need to save citizens from an imminent danger, and only they can provide the relief, in this case, since teachers are the problem, they will provide immediate relieve through their profit-making endeavor, known as Teach for America.  These are recent young college graduates, (no need to have an education degree, only agree not to join the teacher’s union), who will receive 5 weeks of training where they are advised never to associate with union, certified teachers.  These teaching interns are replacing certified, union teachers with years of experience, then are placed in the school districts with majority Black and Latino student populations. They fit right in with the Charter Schools Enterprise, who enjoy the hiring of non-union, and many non-certified teachers.  You then create a system which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This is done through the enforcement of a high stake test that is used to deny student’s promotion and graduation, evaluate teachers based on student’s test scores, then when a school reaches the level of failing based on the test, then they come in with the claim that since schools are failing they are the only ones that can save them.

I have a challenge understanding how these profiteers positioned themselves as the savior of a system that they created.  Remember when the Bush administration went to bomb Iraq?  The campaign prior to the bombing was filled with lies about weapons of mass destruction, how we were going to save the people of Iraq from their evil leaders.  Then, after destroying the country, our government came back to the people saying that our tax dollars will be used to give Chaney’s Halliburton a no-bid contract to repair what they broke.  It is the same playbook they are using in education, create the conditions for failure until the system is broken, then claim that they alone can fix it.  In order to fix what they broke, they use an appealing language, like “innovation”, “reform,” and their favorite, “choice.”  What we have come to understand about “choice,” is that the choice is only for the profiteers not the families of children with special needs nor the English language learners.

Another form used is to deflect the truths with dog-whistle propaganda, glossy presentations that disguise the real ideology of greed under the umbrella of “freedom” and “saving children.” Once the propaganda is solidified, that is when ALEC came in.  ALEC, with funding from Bill Gates, were the mastermind behind the Common Core, who were able to forge alliances with big business and state legislators.  Another brilliance of the profiteers was to buy off both major political parties, as we now know that both Republicans and Democrats have drunk the Corporate education reform cool-aid. This was done through the creation of legislation that politically and financially benefited the stake holders in this case the Billionaires and Wall Street investors and the politicians. They also use the tactic of laundering the policies through a number of non-profit agencies and corporate philanthropy, where the origins are not easily traced.

These are the same “stake holders,” comprised of corporations who are managing charter schools and online schools and other “options” in the place of the “failing schools.” Deals are made with textbook and testing companies that schools must use, generating billions of profits for these companies, while public schools languish from lack of resources, such resources that otherwise schools could spend hiring teachers to reduce class size, or provide essential needed materials.

Charter schools claims to be the solution for the failing schools, have been shown to do no better than the schools they rob the resources from, and many have established policies that “counsel-out” students that they fear will not pass the test, and the public school from where those students come, must take them back.  They traditionally do not take high leveled special need students, nor English language learners.

Now, I want to end with this food for thought: The Common Core was designed with little to none expert educator or child development advice.  When, the President announced its early education initiative, many of us were hopeful that our Black and Latino young children will benefit from early intervention.  But, as we read the wording and began to understand what was involved, it became clear that “test and punish” was now being imposed on children who were 4 and 5 years old. To her dismay, my friend Nancy Carlsson Page, Professor of early education at Lesley University expressed her disdain, as she told me, “for now we have 4 and 5-year-olds, who should be spending their time in play activities, learning about their environment and socializing as well as developing a love for learning, forced to spend the better time of the school year prepping for a single test, a test that has been shown to be harmful and abusive to children.”

“Yes, You Are Allowed To Do That!” One Principal’s Mission to Bring Back Play in School

by Brett Gustafson

As a principal for the last 13 years, I have come to the realization that the biggest threat to the emotional and academic well-being of our children is me – maybe not me personally but principals.  Principals are telling teachers to do away with play in school because, “We need to be more academic.”  The problem is that all the data and the research out there proves that statement 100% false.  Play in all grades, especially the early grades, is necessary for students’ emotional, behavioral and academic success. I am heartbroken to hear parents in my town tell me “kindergarten is too serious” or “my child was labeled ADHD because he can’t sit in kindergarten.”  I am here to tell principals we need to become part of the solution.  This account is one more piece of evidence in a growing pile of data that shows children learn best through play.

Four years ago I was hired to turn around a school that was dubbed “The Worst School in the State” by a, then, assistant superintendent.  I discovered the principal before me made all kindergarten teachers throw out their sand tables, kitchen centers, and blocks to make the early years more academic.  At that time, less than 30% of kindergarten students met the state benchmark for early reading proficiency and there was 350 out of school suspensions in a school of 500 students.  Clearly, the get tough, “no excuses” policies were not working. header_640037029_

Many principals of a chronically underperforming school probably would have continued to push for “more academic” lessons in the early grades, because most principals do not come from early childhood settings.  They are not aware of the research nor do they have any personal experience working with young children. They think of kindergarteners as mini-fifth graders who should sit in their seats and get to work. I am fortunate enough to have a wife who is an early childhood expert who hands me articles to read about play in school and proudly boasts she can teach every Common Core State Standard for kindergarten math in the block center.  With her guidance, I performed a little experiment with my kindergarten teachers.  The teachers and I read articles on the need for play in the classroom and I encouraged them to create multiple opportunities for students to engage in interactive play throughout the day.  One teacher, who seemed like she was on a hidden camera show, asked, “Wait, we’re allowed to play in the classroom?”  It is heartbreaking that the question needed to be asked, but, in most schools, teachers are told explicitly not to let the kids play or “play is for recess.”  I reassured her, “Yes, you are allowed to do that.”

Remarkably, there was one teacher on the grade that wanted nothing to do with this “experiment,” so she became the control group and life in her class stayed much as it had last few years according to district recommendations.   Two of my kindergarten teachers embraced the idea of play in the classroom and flourished.  Jessica Scire, who had been teaching for five years, seemed a bit depressed with her class prior to the experiment, but then, with a big smile, declared, “This is what I was went to school for.  This is why I went into teaching.” She created a play center with a pizza restaurant where each day students created scenes from the restaurant that included wait staff taking orders on paper, delivery drivers, and dinner conversation.  Lisette Garcia was the other teacher who later told me of her subversion, “I’ve been doing play even when we weren’t supposed to because I knew my kids needed it.” housekeeping corner 1Now, with the blessing of the principal ,her kitchen center was brought to its glory. She shared, “It builds their vocabulary, especially for my ELL students.”  Throughout the year, Scire and Garcia incorporated elements of movement, song, and play in all their subjects and the kids thrived.

Perhaps it is not surprising that there was practically zero office referrals in the two kindergarten classes that incorporated play in their lessons.  The students were more engaged and they were allowed to move around the classroom in a manner appropriate for five-year-olds.  The control group class, on the other hand, had practically a referral a day and I was forced to send more adults into that class to intervene with students who had so called “problem behaviors.” 

What was surprising to some was the incredible academic gains the two play classes made this year.  In the class where they created stories in the pizza restaurant, 67% met the state benchmark for kindergarten reading.  In the class with a vocabulary-rich kitchen center, 61% met benchmark and that includes a high number of students whose first language is not English.  These were the highest reading scores in the school’s history.  The teacher who wanted to be “more academic” had just 35% of her students scoring at benchmark. 

blocks 2Next year, we are working on expanding play and movement to all four classes in kindergarten and all four classes in first grade.  It is clear to me, as it should be to all principals, that play is a necessary component of learning.  This should come as no surprise to early childhood educators but many elementary principals are slow to embrace.  I share this account with Defending The Early Years not to boast “Look how great I am!” because, had it not been my wife (who worked with Senior DEY Advisor Dr. Diane Levin in college), I might not have been so quick to try this experiment this year.  I share this because I know there are many well-intentioned principals out there who don’t have the early childhood background to know how crucial play is for learning.  Please share this with them to let them know, “Yes, you are allowed to do that.”

Brett Gustafson is the husband of early childhood educator Libby Rackliffe-Gustafson and the principal of James Curiale School in Bridgeport, Connecticut.   

Senior Advisor Nancy Carlsson-Paige Reflects on the 2016 Network for Public Education Conference

The 2016 Network for Public Education Conference, held April 15-17 in Raleigh, NC, is truly an experience—something hard to describe.  For a few days in April, education and social justice activists from around the country come together in a burst of energy and synergy to share lives and ideas and to build an education movement for equity and justice for all children.

I was glad that Denisha Jones, DEY National Advisory Board member, and I attended because our session was the only one focused exclusively on young children.  Our panel was called T-E-S-T and Not PLAY is a Four-Letter Word:  Putting the Young Child and the Teacher at the Center of Education Reform.  Susan Ochshorn, early childhood author and journalNPE 2016 3ist, moderated, and we were joined by Michelle Gunderson, first grade teacher and early childhood leader in the Chicago Teachers Union. We covered many issues in a short time including the decrease in play and active learning in classrooms for young children, the disproportionate effects of corporate education reform on black and brown children and those in low-income communities, and the need to strengthen our advocacy for young children.  Lots of folks attended the session and I was really glad we were there to connect early childhood issues to the larger landscape of education reform that were the focus of the conference.

Many people came up to me over the course of the three days in Raleigh to tell me how they follow DEY, appreciate us, and benefit from using our materials.  It was really heNPE 2016 2artening to realize that we are voicing important ideas and issues that might otherwise not be accessible to teachers and parents.  People are using the papers we’ve put out in a variety of ways as well as our fact sheets, and many say they read our website regularly.

At the conference, we learned about many new documentary films being made about the current state of education in our country.  All of these films and how to order them are listed on the NPE website.   In a separate session we saw a “fine cut” preview of the almost finished documentary Backpack Full of Cash.  This film is being made by Sarah Mondale and Vera Aranow who made the PBS series called SCHOOL which received so much acclaim.   Their new film unwraps the movement to privatize our nation’s schools, telling a straightforward and understandable narrative through the eyes of the communities affected.   The film should be out in the coming year and I think its time is right.

On Saturday, we listened to a riveting keynote speech from Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of NAACP, about the history of racism in our schools and the continuing reality of systemic racism that permeates our society today.  Rev. Barber is a gifted orator who can move his listeners to new levels of awareness by his artistic crafting of words and powerful delivery.Themes of charter schools, over-testing, privatization, racial justice, poverty, global education, democracy, and public education ran through the speeches and sessions of the conference, helping all of us to heighten our understanding and also our resolve to continue our work.  I felt re-energized about our work at Defending the Early Years, proud of what we do, sure that we should keep on.

Maybe next year YOU will want to attend the Network for Public Education conference—you won’t be disappointed!

e7e95e44-9df2-49ed-a64c-60a177df4d16

 

Stressed-Out Six-Year-Olds and the Dilemma of Their Teacher

by a Disheartened First Grade Teacher

Pizza Day. Pizza Day. Pizza Day.  The words replay over and over in six-year-old Tommy’s head as he sees how long the lunch line is.  Tommy grabs his pizza and sprints to his lunch table, carrots spilling off of his tray. Glancing at the clock but unsure what the clock hands actually signify, he knows there can’t be much time left.  Trying not to talk to his peers, Tommy stuffs a large bite of gooey deliciousness into his mouth. Before he can swallow or enjoy his favorite meal, he takes another bite and a gulp of milk.

 “Time to clean up!” the lunch aide announces.  

Tommy’s classmates throw out their partially eaten lunches and line up. With his stomach still rumbling, Tommy quickly stuffs another bite into his mouth.  As I approach Tommy, I glance at the clock, knowing that in less than two minutes, one hundred hungry third graders will bombard the cafeteria for their lunch period.  I gaze back at Tommy and my subtle nod lets him know he can sneak his lunch back to class.  Sarah’s desperate eyes ask me the same question and I must tell her “no,” as her teacher for afternoon intervention services is anxiously waiting for her at the door. Sarah is already late.

Tommy carries his lunch through the hallway, hoping it won’t spill, as the next group of children rush past him to get to their brief lunch period, all feeling the pressure of academic rigor, the jam-packed schedule, and the ever-present tests.  It’s a typical lunch hour at my school.

I entered the teaching profession six years ago– energized, enthusiastic, and eager to put my passion into practice.  I currently teach in an upper-middle class town in the greater Boston area. Since graduating college, I have earned a Master’s Degree from a renowned school osad girl at deskf education.  Through my experience and studies, I have honed my core beliefs as an educator.  But, on a daily basis, I find myself internally battling with what I know is best for children and what I am mandated to do.

My intent in writing is to raise awareness of what is going on in the public school system where our students are increasingly being taught in testing environments with stakes higher than ever before, under high pressure conditions.  While the stress among schools is glaring for teachers, administrators, and even students, I have learned that the link often left in the dark is the parents.   In the past month alone, I was asked to withhold details from parents about their child’s schedule, stretch the truth about the amount of time their children have to eat lunch, encourage a child to take a test after seeing her break out in hives during the last testing session, and explain that our school culture supports play and exploration.   Don’t get me wrong–when I see my students stuffing food into their mouths, I sneak their lunch back to the classroom. Despite the Common Core aligned curriculum and many assessments that strip my students from the most valuable moments of childhood, I integrate play-based and authentic learning into the school day as much as I possibly can.

While I struggle to find the words to express my disappointment about the current state of the public education system, I find myself lying awake at night worrying about my students and pondering what the future holds for education in our country? My school culture, among many in our country, doesn’t support meeting the most basic of needs for children, due to the rigorous school day and demands, let alone supporting best practices for teaching and learning.  Let me make sure I am clear– the district I teach in is considered a “model district” in the state of Massachusetts.

While I believe in high standards for children, I do not believe that teaching my first graders 15 different types of math word problems will prepare them to contribute to society in 16 years.  While I agree with the importance of early literacy, I do not believe having my first graders undergo at least 12 assessments per year and be pulled out of class constantly for intervention and progress monitoring will prepare them for the real world. In fact, I see the youngest learners deeming themselves as failures as they are unable to meet unrealistic and developmentally inappropriate expectations aligned with the Common Core State Standards.  I see the youngest learners having their confidence crushed as they are pulled out of the classroom for intervention up to eight times a week.

The nationally normed set of Common Core State Standards were intended to promote higher order thinking skills “to prepare students to be career and college ready.”  I can speak from direct experience that, in many cases, the implementation has increased teacher talk time, increased the amount of time children need to sit passively, and have decreased opportunities for critical thinking.  I believe that providing students with genuine context to problem solve, to explore the world around them, and to think “outside of the box” will prepare them to contribute to the complex society we live in today.  I believe that fostering creativity and providing students with authentic learning experiences to foster academic and social emotional skills will prepare them for the 21st century.  The more my school increases “academic rigor,” the more doctor forms I am asked to fill out about ADHD and the more anxiety my students endure.  Each time I utilize practices that align with cognitive science for childhood development, the behavior challenges not only minimize (or disappear) but the learning outcomes increase substantially.

I find myself struggling to tailor my students’ education based on their developmental needs as the current education system pressures me to fit them into a mold. I am left no choice but to rush through lessons to ensure I am meeting all of the curriculum requirements, rather than providing the rich and authentic learning experiences that drive me as an educator and my students as learners. The core to my struggles comes from the lack of time I have to provide my students with, what research supports, is, in fact, crucial to their development, such as hands-on learning, play based opportunities, and fostering different learning styles. The many moments that I cannot integrate authentic learning and creativity because there simply isn’t time in the schedule to get off of the curriculum track, these are the moments that are most valuable in the present and future lives of these children.boy with backpack

With color-coded spreadsheets in front of me at last week’s data meeting, I listened to the team speak about my students as numbers rather than using their names. These “numbers” that I know so well, these six-year-olds who have real feelings, needs, strengths, and challenges, are being scrutinized by a red, yellow, or green data point on a graph.  I gazed through the window and watched as young children sprinted through the halls to get to their 15 minutes of recess.  As I glanced at the stress in their eyes, the stress in my colleague’s eyes, and back down at the color-coded spreadsheets, I realized we have lost control, lost power, and lost our ability to utilize our expertise and innovation. What we haven’t lost is our core understanding of what’s right for children.  Our students need passionate and skilled teachers who stay in the field. Our students need creativity and to be able to think of an original idea. Our students need to problem solve, collaborate, self-regulate, and explore the world around them. And–how could I forget–our students need to eat lunch.

Tips for parents: Questions to ask the Principal at your child’s school

  •  What is my child’s daily schedule?
  • Will my child ever miss art, gym or music to receive intervention services?
  • How long does my child have to eat lunch, not including transitions?
  • How long is recess each day?
  • Does our school provide and support play-based learning experiences and choice time?
  • How does our school culture promote creativity and hands-on learning in conjunction with the academic standards?
  • How many assessments does my child undergo a year? How do these assessments help my child’s teacher tailor his/her instruction?

 

DEY Releases “Straight Talk About the Common Core State Standards”

Testing season is around the corner and, once again, Defending the Early Years takes a stand about the Common Core State Standards. Find our newest resource, Straight Talk about the Common Core State Standards, on our website now!

 

More on “Our Twisted Pre-K Education”

Please listen to this story from Meghna Chakrabarti which aired on WBUR’s Radio Boston yesterday. On theRadioBoston program DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige explains that “high quality Pre-K is just a buzzword for rigorous instruction of 4-year-olds.” Carlsson-Paige explains what has been happening in early childhood classrooms under recent ed reforms – and what preschool classrooms should look like. We hope you listen and share!

http://radioboston.wbur.org/2015/12/30/pre-k-education

LivelyMindsAs 2015 draws to a close, we look back on all we have done together to defend play and playful learning in the face of misguided education reform. In 2015 we published three new research-based advocacy reports that have been read and shared widely. We began using short videos to help share our message to a wider audience. We also started translating our work into Spanish. We look forward to more reports, videos and translations in the new year. We could not have done this alone and today, we thank you for being a part of DEY!

In a few weeks DEY turns 4 years old! Today we ask you to help celebrate our accomplishments and our growing coalition with a tax-deductible donation.

Onward!

Please click here to donate

DonateNow
Happy New Year and many thanks from DEY!

 

 

 

DEY at NAEYC’s Annual Conference

NAEYCdownload
Thursday, November 19th from 3 – 4:30 pm at the Orange County Convention Center, Room W110B.  DEY will be hosting a session titled Cognitive Development and the Challenge of Common Core Standards at NAEYC’s Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. With the Common Core State Standards impacting many early childhood classrooms across the country, teachers are faced with the complicated task of meeting the needs of young learners who are challenged by the new expectations and the push-down of academics. This session will draw on the expertise of leaders in the field who will share their thinking around the math and literacy standards and how these relate to cognitive development theory and what we know about how young children learn. Diane Levin will be the facilitator and Lilian Katz, Constance Kamii and Joan Almon will be our presenters.
Dr. Denisha Jones will speak at DEY’s 3rd Annual Organizing Meeting for Early Childhood Activists
 
Vinetta C. Jones, Ph.D.Friday, November 20th from 6 – 7:30 pm in the Hilton Orlando Hotel, Lake Hart Room. Dr. Jones will share her expertise in organizing and advocating for young children. We will be hosting what promises to be an inspiring meeting! Download and share our flyer. Please RSVP to deydirector@gmail.com.