DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige receives Hero in Education Award from FairTest


This evening DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige was awarded the Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award by our colleagues at FairTest. We are deeply honored to share Nancy’s acceptance speech here:

Thank you FairTest for this Deborah Meier Hero in Education Award. FairTest does such great advocacy and education around fair and just testing practices. This award carries the name of one of my heroes in education, Deborah Meier—she’s a force for justice and democracy in education. I hope that every time this award is given, it will allow us to once again pay tribute to Deb.  Also, I feel privileged to be accepting this honor alongside Lani Guinier.

 

When I was invited to be here tonight, I thought about the many people who work for justice and equity in education who could also be standing here.  So I am thinking of all of them now and I accept this award on their behalf—all the educators dedicated to children and what’s fair and best for them.

 

It’s wonderful to see all of you here—so many family and friends, comrades in this struggle to reclaim excellent public education for all– not just some–of our children.

 

I have loved my life’s work– teaching teachers about how young children think, how they learn, how they develop socially, emotionally, morally. I’ve been fascinated with the theories and science of my field and seeing it expressed in the actions and the play of children.

 

So never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today.

 

Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed.  We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively—they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public Pre-K at the age of four are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction.”

 

And never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.

Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal–as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe.  Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners.  Or watch a 4-year old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event.

 

But play is disappearing from classrooms.  Even though we know play is learning for young kids, we are seeing it shoved aside to make room for academic instruction and “rigor.”

 

I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would have to fight for classrooms for young kids that are developmentally appropriate. Instead of active, hands-on learning, children now sit in chairs for far too much time getting drilled on letters and numbers.  Stress levels are up among young kids.  Parents and teachers tell me:  children worry that they don’t know the right answers; they have nightmares, they pull out their eyelashes, they cry because they don’t want to go to school.  Some people call this child abuse and I can’t disagree.

 

I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would be up against pressure to test and assess young kids throughout the year often in great excess—often administering multiple tests to children in kindergarten and even Pre-K.  Now, when young children start school, they often spend their first days not getting to know their classroom and making friends.  They spend their first days getting tested.  Here are words from one mother as this school year began:

 

My daughter’s first day of kindergarten — her very first introduction to elementary school — consisted almost entirely of assessment. She was due at school at 9:30, and I picked her up at 11:45. In between, she was assessed by five different teachers, each a stranger, asking her to perform some task.

 

By the time I picked her up, she did not want to talk about what she had done in school, but she did say that she did not want to go back. She did not know the teachers’ names. She did not make any friends. Later that afternoon, as she played with her animals in her room, I overheard her drilling them on their numbers and letters.

 

The most important competencies in young children can’t be tested—we all know this.   Naming letters and numbers is superficial and almost irrelevant in relation to the capacities we want to help children develop: self-regulation, problem solving ability, social and emotional competence, imagination, initiative, curiosity, original thinking—these capacities make or break success in school and life and they can’t be reduced to numbers.

 

Yet these days, all the money and resources, the time dedicated to professional development, they go to tooling teachers up to use the required assessments.  Somehow the data gleaned from these tests is supposed to be more valid than a teacher’s own ability to observe children and understand their skills in the context of their whole development in the classroom.

 

The first time I saw for myself what was becoming of many of the nation’s early childhood classrooms was when I visited a program in a low income community in north Miami.  Most of the children were on free and reduced lunch.

 

There were ten classrooms–kindergarten and Pre-K.  The program’s funding depended on test scores, so—no surprise—teachers taught to the test.  Kids who got low scores, I was told, got extra drills in reading and math and didn’t get to go to art.  They used a computer program to teach 4 and 5 year olds how to Bubble.  One teacher complained to me that some children go outside the lines.

 

In one of the kindergartens I visited, the walls were barren and so was the whole room.  The teacher was testing one little boy at a computer at the side of the room.  There was no classroom aide.  The other children were sitting at tables copying words from the chalk board.  The words were:  “No talking.  Sit in your seat. Hands to Yourself.”

The teacher kept shouting at them from her testing corner:  Be quiet!  No talking!

 

Most of the children looked scared or disengaged, and one little boy was sitting alone.  He was quietly crying.  I will never forget how these children looked or how it felt to watch them, I would say, suffering in this context that was such a profound mismatch with their needs.

 

It’s in low-income, under-resourced communities like this one where children are most subjected to heavy doses of teacher-led drills and tests.  Not like in wealthier suburbs where kids have the opportunity to go to early childhood programs that have play, the arts, and project-based learning.  It’s poverty—the elephant in the room—that is the root cause of this disparity.

 

A few months ago, I was alarmed to read a report from the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights showing that more than 8,000 children from public preschools across the country were suspended at least once in a school year, many more than once. First of all, who suspends a preschooler?  Why and for what?  The very concept is bizarre and awful.  But 8,000?  And then to keep reading the report to see that a disproportionate number of those suspended preschoolers were low income, black boys.

 

There is a connection, I know, between these suspensions and ed reform policies: Children in low income communities are enduring play deficient classrooms where they get heavy doses of direct teaching and testing.  They have to sit still, be quiet in their seats and comply.  Many young children can’t do this and none should have to.

 

I came home from that visit to the classrooms in North Miami in despair.  But fortunately, the despair turned quickly to organizing.  With other educators we started our nonprofit Defending the Early Years.  We have terrific early childhood leaders with us (some are here tonight: Deb Meier, Geralyn McLaughlin, Diane Levin and Ayla Gavins).  We speak in a unified voice for young children.

 

We publish reports, write op eds, make videos and send them out on YouTube, we speak and do interviews every chance we get.

 

We’ve done it all on a shoestring.  It’s almost comical:  The Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million dollars just to promote the Common Core.  Our budget at Defending the Early Years is .006% of that.

 

We collaborate with other organizations.  FairTest has been so helpful to us. And we also collaborate with –Network for Public Education, United Opt Out, many parent groups, Citizens for Public Schools, Bad Ass Teachers, Busted Pencils Radio, Save Our Schools, Alliance for Childhood and ECE PolicyWorks —There’s a powerful network out there– of educators, parents and students—and we see the difference we are making.

 

We all share a common vision:  Education is a human right and every child deserves one.  An excellent, free education where learning is meaningful– with arts, play, engaging projects, and the chance to learn citizenship skills so that children can one day participate—actively and consciously–in this increasingly fragile democracy.

Geralyn McLaughlin, Deborah Meier, Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Lani Guinier

Geralyn McLaughlin, Deborah Meier, Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Lani Guinier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NPE Conference will livestream from Austin, TX this weekend!

NPElogoNPEconferenceThis Saturday and Sunday (March 1st and 2nd) hundreds of teachers, parents, students and activists will gather in Austin, Texas for the first-ever conference by the Network for Public Education. The Network for Public Education, founded by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody, is “an advocacy group whose goal is to fight to protect, preserve and strengthen our public school system, an essential institution in a democratic society. Our mission is to protect, preserve, promote, and strengthen public schools and the education of current and future generations of students.” (quoted from the NPE website)

This national event will be an amazing opportunity to hear and learn from activists from around the country. Registration is full, however the keynote addresses and select panels/workshops will be livestreamed!  Livestreamed sessions will include Deborah Meier (DEY National Advisory Board member) and Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin (DEY Director). You can also follow the conference on Twitter with the hashtag #npeconference.

The conference will begin at 8:30 am Austin time, which is 9:30 am Eastern. NPE hopes to livestream from the start, but some portions of the conference may be delayed, because of their location.

These are the sessions NPE plans to livestream:

Saturday, Mar. 1

1. 9:15 to 10:30 am
Educators Organizing Resistance: Deb Meier, Jesse Hagopian, Karen Lewis, Katie Osgood and Bob Peterson.

2. 10:45 am to 12:00 pm
Student Organizing: Moderator: Jose Vilson; Panelists: Hannah Nguyen, Israel Munoz, Stephanie Rivera, Bryan Varela, Mayra Mostafa

3. 1:00 to 2:15 pm: Keynotes by John Kuhn and Karen Lewis

4. 2:30 to 3:45 pm: Research and Activism: Moderator: Julian Vasquez Heilig; Panelists: Kevin Welner, Tina Trujillo, Kevin Foster, Sonya Horford

5. 4:00 to 5:15 pm: Opting Out
Panelists: Peggy Robertson, Jesse Hagopian, Dora Taylor

Sunday, Mar. 2

1. 9:00 to 10:30 am:  Common Core Panel:  Paul Horton, Geralyn McLaughlin, Mercedes Schneider, Jose Luis Vilson, Randi Weingarten

2. 10:30 am to Noon: Keynote by Diane Ravitch.

3. 1:00 to 2:15 pm:  TFA
Moderator: Julian Vasquez Heilig; Panelists: Sarah Ishmael, Kerry Kretchmar, Camika Royal, Beth Sondel, Chad Sommer

Looking back at “A Year at Mission Hill”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heroes in education – young and old

On Thursday evening, many educators gathered in Cambridge, MA to honor Jonathan Kozol as he received the Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award. The event was sponsored by our colleagues at FairTest – the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Monty Neil, FairTest Executive Director, welcomed us to the event with an uplifting account of the ground swell of protests to high-stakes testing that have emerged this school year – and especially this spring. The movement continues to be “embryonic”, though it does feel as though parents, teachers and students across the country have begun to find their collective voice of resistance. Chicago Public Schools cancelled a district-mandated assessment for their youngest students last month – this followed quickly on the heels of the “Play-In” protest a CPS headquarters and a boycott of the state-mandated Prairie Achievement Exam by high school students. These parents, students and teachers who are standing up, boycotting, rallying and protesting are also heroes in education.

On a related note, educators in New York are gearing up for a Rally for Public Education in Albany on June 8th.  They’ve asked us to spread the word. Below, see a Top Ten list of reasons for attending the rally – as well as a YouTube video to help spread the word.

TOP TEN reasons to March on Albany in the Rally for Public Education:

10. You have realized public education is being hi-jacked by for profit organizations.

9. You are tired of reading about how ineffective you are at your own profession by people who know nothing about education.

8. You believe high stakes testing is out of control in NY.

7. You believe you have not had enough time to learn the Common Core yourself, let alone have your students tested on it!

6. You believe your students’ personal information, including their state assessment results and their IEPs and other personal data should be kept confidential.

5. You believe your effectiveness rating should be kept confidential, and don’t want a link on the district web page to this information or directions given to get this information.

4. You believe that NYS should report to the public the amount of tax payer money spent on developing, administering, grading and reviewing state assessments.

3. The word PEARSON makes your skin crawl.

2. You work in Averill Park (Insert your own school district.)and have lost about a quarter of your faculty due to unfair state budget cuts!

AND THE NUMBER ONE REASON….

1. You are a caring professional who wants the BEST public education for your own students, children, and grandchildren and you know this isn’t it!

Michelle Smead, Averill Park Teachers’ Association

Press Release from United Opt Out National

Contact: United Opt Out National FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Email:unitedoptoutnational@gmail.com
Website: http://unitedoptout.com

OCCUPY THE US DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION 2.0

The Battle for Public Schools

Administrators of the public education advocacy group UNITED OPT OUT NATIONAL are hosting the second annual event on the grounds of the US Department of Education in Washington, DC on April 4-7, 2013. We ask all of those in support of teachers, students and public schools to attend. The third day will include an organized march to the White House.

The event is a four-day gathering of progressive education activists endeavoring to resist the destructive influences of corporate and for-profit education reforms, which began in previous administrations and persist with the current one. We cannot and will not stand silent as the threats to dismantle our system of public education continue. These threats include the erosion of the teaching profession, excessive use of standardized testing, mandated scripted curriculum, the absolute disregard of child poverty, and reforms which disproportionately impact minority communities.

We ask that you join us, stand tall, and meet your responsibility as citizens to be heard above the din corporate influence.

You will have the opportunity to hear speakers and converse with public school advocates from across the country, including Diane Ravitch, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, Stephen Krashen, Brian Jones, Deborah Meier, and many other students, teachers, and community members (visit the link below for full schedule details).

Do not miss this free and unique opportunity to connect with like-minded public school advocates. Come gather information and strategies that can be used to fight corporate education reform in your own community. Join us and make your voice heard.

If you require more information about the event, or to schedule interviews with the Administrators of United Opt Out National, please contact Peggy Robertson at (720)810- 5593 or via email writepeg@juno.com.