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.

 

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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The Incredible NPE Experience

Last weekend the Network for Public Education (NPE) hosted their second annual national conference. It was, to say the least, an inspiring experience. About six hundred activists from around the country gathered in Chicago to share ideas, resources, success and struggles. What an honor to mix and mingle with all of these warriors in the fight to reclaim public education. As NPE says, “We are many. There is power in our numbers. Together we will save our school.”

If you were not able to attend, the keynotes and many of the sessions were live-streamed. These videos are becoming available at the NPE website. Please, do not miss NPE President Diane Ravitch in conversation with Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis who closed out the conference; Tanaisa Brown and Jitu Brown who gave the inspiring opening remarks that set the tone for the next few days; Yong Zhao from MIT, who was hilarious as well as brilliant; and Diane Ravitch in conversation with NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT’s Randi Weingarten.

Afterwards, Diane Ravitch wrote, “The keynotes were wonderful. The panels were led by activists sharing what they had learned. Most of them had overflow crowds. One in particular was especially enlightening–Jesse Hagopian’s discussion of the racist history of standardized testing, accompanied by Rita Green, the Director of Education for the Seattle NAACP, which has endorsed the opt-out movement. Green told the audience that the NAACP locals do not share the enthusiasm of the national organization for standardized testing. The room for that session was packed, with audience members sitting on the floor and lining the walls.”

Here is the video of the outstanding discussion featuring Seattle teacher-leader Jesse Hagopian and Rita Greene, education director of the Seattle NAACP.

There is way too much to write about here – however if you search Twitter using the hashtag #NPEChicago you will find a wealth of information and inspiration.

Our Defending the Early Years session was fantastic – we heard from folks from across the country who shared their stories. We heard many, many thanks for the resources we have been providing. These resources are helping educators and parents defend good classroom practices for young children. We took notes on what more is needed – and these notes will help us formulate some of our next steps. For sure, one next step is to start translating our resources into Spanish. Our DEY session was live streamed and when the video becomes available we will let you know.

And in other great news…the plans for next year’s NPE conference are already in the works! And if you can’t wait that long…join the BAT’s Teacher Congress in Washington, D.C. July 22 – July 26th.

Onward!

Parents and Teachers say “NO!” ~ Testing Resistance Continues to Grow

Resistance to over-testing and high stakes testing continues to mount across the country. Here are some inspiring examples:

Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones are two first-grade teachers from Tulsa, Oklahoma. These brave teachers have written an open letter to parents explaining why they are refusing to administer the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test to their students. Here is an excerpt from the letter that illustrates one child’s experience:
Student 1: This is one of the sweetest students a teacher could ask for. This student is gentle, calm, and collected. This student is learning English, but does not yet have any academic English. The student sat in front of the computer screen and tried his very best.  We watched his eyes well up with tears. We watched the student nervously pull at his hair.  Eventually, the student scratched red marks down his face in distress over the test.  He is the oldest of the siblings. He can cook, clean, and take care of a baby better than some adults. The student knows all of his alphabet and the letter sounds in English now. This student loves writing books and can dance like no other. He is now comfortable enough to get up in front of the class and perform a talent or recite a poem. This student scored in the 1% range.

Read more about their story in Valerie Strauss’ recent column Your children deserve better than this, first-grade teachers tell parents and read their full letter here.

In other news, our friends at FairTest shared these recent actions:

More than a ScoreAnd there is the just released More Than a Score edited by teacher and activist Jessie Hagopian:

More Than a Score is a collection of essays, poems, speeches, and interviews—accounts of personal courage and trenchant insights—from frontline fighters who are defying the corporate education reformers, often at great personal and professional risk, and fueling a national movement to reclaim and transform public education.

Along with the voices of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and grassroots education activists, the book features renowned education researchers and advocates, including Diane Ravitch, Alfie Kohn, Wayne Au, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Karen Lewis, Carol Burris, and Mark Naison. (from the website)

DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige will be joining Hagopian and some fellow contributors at the upcoming event on December 4th (see details below).

Thursday, December 4, 2014 – 7:00pm

First Parish Church at Harvard Square

1446 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

Join us for an exciting evening of discussion with . . .

Monty Neill, FairTest Executive Director
Alfie Kohn, Author/Activist
Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Early Childhood Education Expert
Barbara Madeloni, Massachusetts Teachers Association President

and editor Jesse Hagopian, a leader of the successful Seattle Teacher Test Boycott

Sponsored by Citizens for Public Schools

Resistance continues to grow

Today we share more examples of resistance to the current education “reform” movement…

In New York City, parents at the Castle Bridge School organized a successful boycott of a new standardized test for the K – 2 students at their school. Principal Julie Zuckerman supported the parents and cancelled the test when 90% of the parents opted out. Learn more here from this video from The Real News.

Award-winning principal Carol Burris of New York has written an eloquent piece in Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet:  A ridiculous Common Core test for first graders. Burris reports that NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) has called for a three year moratorium on high-stakes consequences of testing.

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.”

The Badass Teacher Association (BATs) – which formed just a few months ago – already has almost 32,000 members on Facebook. “MISSION: Badass Teachers Association was created to give voice to every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality through education. BAT members refuse to accept assessments, tests and evaluations created and imposed by corporate driven entities that have contempt for authentic teaching and learning. GOALS: BATs aim to reduce or eliminate the use of high stakes testing, increase teacher autonomy in the classroom and work to include teacher and family voices in legislative decision-making processes that affect students.”

What other examples of resistance are happening in your area?! Please share.