DEY defends play-based learning on PBS NewsHour

Are young kids losing the brain-boosting benefits of playtime?

Earlier this month, Cat Wise from PBS NewsHour featured Defending the Early Years and the Mission Hill School in a segment taking a look at play-based learning. We are thrilled to share it here – in case you missed it!

And for a full transcript of the story go here, to the story on PBS NewsHour’s website.

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.”

Forward together. Not one step back.

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Our fight for public education is only good if we fight for social justice. – Denisha Jones, SOS, United Opt Out, BATs, DEY, Howard University

Closing schools is a hate crime. – Irene Robinson, Dyett Hunger Strike

When you undermine the dreams of the children, you undermine the future.- Rev. Barber II

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is right now. – Tanaisa Brown, student organizer from Chicago (quoting a Chinese proverb)

Even if we don’t succeed in righting the moral wrong, the children have to see us trying. – Rev. Barber II

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The BATs swarmed in – ready to march!

My head and heart are spinning as I reflect on the overwhelming weekend in Washington D.C. – the Peoples March and Rally on Friday, the Save Our Schools Coalition for Action conference at Howard University on Saturday, and the organizing meeting on Sunday morning. Folks came from all over the country–Seattle, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, New York, Florida, California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Connecticut and more.

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Jitu Brown ‘s keynote at Howard University

The rally began on the Friday morning – as the news of the Dallas police shootings was still emerging.  As the weekend unfolded, one thing became crystal clear.  Our work to bring well-funded, high-quality schools to every neighborhood is inextricably connected to social justice, economic inequality, poverty, and racism. We can not work in silos in our efforts to reclaim public schools. Jitu Brown, the National Director for the Journey for Justice Alliance explained that we are working on many of the symptoms of the problem but we are not working on the root of the problem. “The virus is white supremacy.” And he is so right. Our country’s historic and systemic racism and the inter-generational trauma that it imposes on people of color – including the white supremacy of corporate capitalism – is the beast that we have to confront and push back against. That is the work of white people in our country today.

IMG_4690For DEY it means expanding our work on poverty, which has the greatest impact on the youngest children. And continuing our work on the growing issue of preschool and kindergarten suspensions – which overwhelmingly effect young black and brown boys. It means more white people must stop talking and begin listening to people of color. It also means getting more involved in local elections to help shift the power.  For me, personally, it will also involve having intentional conversations about this with my white colleagues (other teachers). And in my home, it is having honest conversations about all of this with my two sons – 12-year-old white males.

This year, the Save Our Schools Coalition weekend was set up so that children were invited and involved. And it was a brilliant move on the part of the organizers. Students as young as 12 spoke at the rally and presented at the conference.(You must check out Asean Johnson from the Chicago Student Union on this video) High school students from Boston shared how they expertly organized student walkouts to protest budget cuts and how they are helping the campaign in Massachusetts to #KeeptheCap on charter schools. Even younger children marched, listened, made signs, sang, and inspired us. They are the future and they keep us grounded. They are watching, listening, and learning. And as Rev. Barber II said, if we don’t succeed, “the children have to see us trying.” Amen.

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Student organizers from Boston Public Schools present at Howard University

For those of you who could not make it to DC, please know that the speeches from Friday and many of the sessions from the conference were live streamed and are available to view on schoolhouselive.org. For me, to have shared the stage with the likes of Rev. Barber II, Jitu Brown, Jesse Hagopian, Julian Vasquez Heilig, Asean Johnson, Irene Robinson, the DC Labor Chorus and so many more on such an historic weekend is something I will never forget. Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Kozol were there, as well. They are all champions for the cause.

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Diane Ravitch addresses the crowd

Forward together. Not one step back.

#BlackLivesMatter #PeoplesMarch16

 

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

DEY Co-Director/teacher/mother

 

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DEY’s Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin and Denisha Jones address the crowd. You can hear DEY, and everyone, here at schoolhouselive.org . Photo credit Susan Ochshorn.

 

“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.   

Boston Second Graders Imagine Their Dream School

by Lily Holland

This week in Boston iboston public schoolss a Week of Action to Save Our Public Schools.  For many of my fellow Boston Public Schools teachers, I know it’s felt more like a year of action with everything that’s gone on.

As part of the other actions I will take this week, I want to give voice to a group we rarely hear from: elementary school students.

I teach second grade.  Yes, second graders are adorable but they are also keenly aware of the world around them.  Their endless curiosity leads to a unique perspective on everything from the best Taylor Swift song to the worst food in the cafeteria.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been studying activism with my students.  We’ve studied famous activists from history, learned about the variety of ways people take action and have had community activists and student leaders come speak in our classroom.  After watching their families and teachers advocate for the budget and feeling inspired by the bravery of local high schoolers who led a walk out, my students decided they wanted to take action too.

Yesterday, we started by making a mural that showed what their dream school would be like if money was no object.  Let me start by saying thphoto 1at when I was seven or eight and attending a fully-funded public school in Winchester, MA, I would have dreamed of having over-the-top things like a swimming pool or something outrageous like a movie theater.  My students, attending a chronically underfunded school, instead requested things like pencils, markers, and glue sticks. photo 5 One student asked me if he was allowed to simply say that his dream school would be “shiny and new.”  Another student asked if it was too big to dream of a school where kids who felt sad could have a room with soft things and people to talk to.  Many students dreamed of a better playground and some asked for a class pet and field trips to far-away places.  As they were working, a student came over to ask me if some schools have a whole library in them rather than just one in their classroom.  When I said yes, he changed his mind from a swing set to a library.photo 2

So, please, stop telling me that our schools are fully-funded or that our budget is as big as it can get because my second graders can show you that it’s not.  I feel lucky to work in a school with a principal who fights like crazy to get my students what they deserve and knows that they deserve more than what we’re able to give them.  But, at the end of the day, without a bigger budget, it’s out of her hands.  At this point, it’s hard to not see this budget as a value judgment about the lives and futures of my students.

I think I’ve changed my mind.  When I introduced this activity, I originally said I dreamed of a school with an outdoor garden that my students and I could use to grow healthy food.  Now I think I dream of a school where seven-year-olds don’t have to just dream about the schools they deserve.

Lily Holland teaches second grade in the Boston Public Schools.

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You Are Not Alone: The Value of Speaking Up, Together

Today’s post is written by second grade teacher and guest blogger, Emily Kaplan. On Saturday, May 21st Emily presented at the 6th annual Boston-Area Educators for Social Justice Conference with DEY’s Co-Director Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin. The workshop was titled: Defending the Early Years: Finding your voice as an early childhood activist. Emily is a reflective teacher who went from feeling discouraged and alone to feeling empowered – and part of a movement. How did that happen? We asked Emily to share her journey as an emerging activist, as a way to encourage and inspire other early childhood teachers. And that is precisely what happened on Saturday. Please read and share Emily’s story below:

You Are Not Alone:

The Value of Speaking Up, Together

Emily Kaplan

            Good morning! My name is Emily Kaplan, and I am so very excited to be sharing with and learning from you all here today.

 

Last year, I taught second grade at a “no excuses” charter school in Boston. In the past few months, I have written several articles about my experience there, as well as the systemic forces which support the existence and growth of these dangerous and counterproductive pedagogical environments.

 

A few days after an article I wrote was published in the Washington Post, an e-mail popped up in my inbox with the subject line “THANK YOU!!” It was from a woman who teaches at a charter school in another state.

 

“Hi Emily,” it began.

 

I don’t often do this, but I just wanted to thank you for writing your article about your experience in your no excuses charter school… While reading your article I felt like you must have been in my head reading my mind to have views so heavily aligned with mine. I also teach at a “no excuses” charter… We are seeing these exact trends in our kids from K-12th grade… I would repost your article but I won’t…yet…

 

As much as my article seemed to bring comfort to this woman, her e-mail brought me tremendous relief as well. I had been terrified to put my writing—my experience and my convictions— out into the world. I feared retribution, personally and professionally. What I feared most deeply, however, was that I was writing into a void: that it would turn out that no one would be listening at all.

 

But that is not what happened. After I began to write about my experiences, I heard from a lot of people. Some of them, as expected, were angry; I am proud to say that I recently had an entire Huffington Post article written about how short-sighted and simple-minded I am.

Most of the people I heard from, though, were educators who felt just as strongly as I did about the same topics. Many were young teachers from around the country whose thoughts and experiences were parallel to mine. Others were educators with decades of experience who wrote to say that I had voiced what they had been feeling for years, that the way this country educates its youngest students has changed for the worse. “I did not retire with joy as I hoped I would,” one teacher wrote. “We need to become a coalition and advocate for developmentally appropriate education for children.”

I agree, wholeheartedly. But I also think that we’re already partly there.

There are so many people who share this mission, and many of them have organized. I’m honored to be here today with Defending the Early Years, a group of brilliant, passionate, experienced educators and academics who fight the good fight, day in and day out. The Teacher Activist Group, The Badass Teachers Association, The Boston Education Justice Alliance: these groups are doing excellent work, and I credit them— 100%— for granting me the courage to take my first baby steps in joining the world of early childhood activism.

 

Last year, when I was teaching at the charter school, things were going— how do I say this diplomatically?— terribly. I struggled every single moment of every single day. And I began to think that not only was I a terrible teacher, but also that I was deeply crazy.

Nearly everyone around me, after all, seemed to be on the same page, downing the Kool-Aid like water at a marathon. I must have been the one who was wrong.

So, in desperation, I looked online. Was there anyone out there who felt and thought as I did? Was there any chance, that is, that I was not insane?

Within a few keystrokes, a whole world opened up. I was not the only one who felt this way— not by far. There were whole communities, organizations, books, academic careers devoted to dismantling the type of approach to education that I found myself in. No, I wasn’t crazy. And I was going to take start taking notes.

I transitioned from survival mode to journalist mode, from cowering in the corner to playing offense. For the rest of that school year, I viewed every troubling situation I found myself in, every example of the type of pedagogy I so deeply disagreed with, as material for my future writing.

This is how I got myself through my time at the charter school. And this is how I came full circle— to join, in baby steps, the community that helped me survive. We are not alone. And the more we band together, loudly, unapologetically, the stronger we will become.

 

Thank you.

 

To read more posts from Emily Kaplan check out:

How Parental Power(lessness) Distinguishes Suburban Public Schools from Urban Charters – originally published by EduShyster

and

All I Really Need to Know I (Should Have) Learned in Kindergarten – originally published by EduShyster

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!

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