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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tell Congress: Keep Federal Accountability Mandates Out of a New Education Law

The following message from our allies at FairTest is a critical one:

Now is the time to make sure a new federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the best possible replacement of “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) that we can win at this time.

The House and Senate conference committee to reconcile their respective versions of ESEA will begin work soon. A new law that ends federally mandated accountability will be an important step forward, even though neither house reduced the test-every-kid-every-year mandate.
There’s still a real danger that diehard test-and-punish proponents could insert destructive “NCLB-lite” accountability provisions into the compromise bill. We need to stop that threat in its tracks! At the same time, we need to protect the right to opt out and encourage better assessments. Your letter will help ensure victory on these critical issues.

Send this letter or call or fax your Senators and Representative today. (For Senate phone and fax numbers, go to http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact; for the House, go to http://www.house.gov/representatives/).

Send your letter to Congress using this link: http://www.fairtest.org/tell-congress-keep-federal-accountability-mandates

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

Announcing our *new* Early Childhood Activist ToolKit

Today we are pleased to announce the launching of our Early Childhood Activist Toolkit. The ToolKit has both Informational Resources and Action Resources. It also includes information about our new Action Mini Grant Initiative!

We have heard from many of you who are working hard to keep developmentally appropriate teaching, learning and assessing in our early childhood classrooms. We prepared the ToolKit to assist you with your very important efforts. As we know, current education reform is often working against these goals.

Please visit our website and let us know what you think – your feedback is valuable. This ToolKit is a direct result of our sessions at NAEYC’s Annual Conference (National Association for the Education of Young Children) in November, and we have been working hard to answer your call.

The shaping of the ToolKit will be an ongoing process, and your input is key. If you have thoughts on other items to add, please let us know.

DEY’s Action Mini Grant Initiative
We are excited to offer a mini grant initiative to help foster your good work in your community as related to DEY’s three principle goals:

  • To mobilize the early childhood community to speak out with well-reasoned arguments against inappropriate standards, assessments, and classroom practices.
  • To track the effects of new standards, especially those linked to the Common Core State Standards, on early childhood education policy and practice.
  • To promote appropriate practices in early childhood classrooms and support educators in counteracting current reforms which undermine these appropriate practices.

We are offering grants from $200.00 to $500.00. We will begin accepting applications on a rolling basis beginning February 1, 2014. Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and up to 20 awards will be granted (depending on grant sizes). Possible actions include, but are not limited to:

  • Hosting a parent information meeting
  • Organizing a Call Your Legislator Day
  • Spearheading a letter writing campaign to politicians
  • Organizing a “Play-In” at the local school board
  • Publicizing an “Opt Out” campaign
  • See our website for more ideas…

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

136+ MASSACHUSETTS EDUCATION PROFESSORS, RESEARCHERS ENDORSE STATEMENT AGAINST HIGH-STAKES TESTING

More than 136 Massachusetts education professors and researchers have added their voices to a growing national rebellion against high-stakes testing. In a joint statement, the experts called for a new state assessment system that will better evaluate the competencies children need to succeed. The signers also urged an end to the state’s current overreliance on high-stakes standardized exams.

The signers say Massachusetts standardized tests “provide only one indicator of student achievement, and their high-stakes uses produce ever-increasing incentives to teach to the test, narrow the curriculum, or even to cheat.” Because of these negative consequences, the signers “call on the [Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education — BESE] to stop using standardized tests in high-stakes decisions affecting students, teachers, and schools.”

The endorsers of the statement recommend that the Secretary of Education, Education Commissioner and BESE:

    Work with educators, parents and the public to craft a new assessment system that will more fully assess the many competencies our children need to succeed in the 21st century and that will avoid the current overreliance on standardized tests.
    Stop using MCAS test results as a barrier to high school graduation.
    Prohibit the use of student test scores in educator evaluations and in decisions for hiring, firing, laying off or rewarding teachers.
    Focus teacher evaluations on the appropriate use of evidence-based teaching practices and a comprehensive set of indicators of classroom and school-based student learning rather than one-shot test scores.

Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige of Lesley University, a leading national early childhood education expert, is one of the statement’s four initiators. “The over-reliance on standardized tests, a destructive influence in American education for over a decade, has now become commonplace in classrooms for our youngest learners,” Carlsson-Paige said. “Increasingly, in early childhood programs across the country, testing and test prep are taking the place of the high-quality education experiences that early childhood professionals have long known are essential for long-term success in school and in life.”

Among the signers are former public school teachers who are now higher education faculty. Floris Wilma Ortiz, Assistant Professor at Westfield State University and the 2011 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, said, “I come from 23 years of teaching classes of English Language Learners. I know first-hand what the MCAS does to them. How can we unite our forces on behalf of a pretty quiet population, immigrants and ELLs who often are overlooked and measured with the same stick?”

Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, is Author in Residence at Northeastern University. He sees the negative impact of the testing regime on his students’ writing ability. “The past decade of high-stakes standardized testing in our schools has created college classrooms where the crucial skills of critical thinking and expression are eclipsed by concerns for ‘what’s on the test?’” MacDonald said. “The college professor—particularly of writing–who wants students to express their ideas clearly has to spend precious classroom time undoing the paralysis caused by the culture of testing. With the lessons ingrained by high-stakes standardized exams, our schools fail to nurture the potential citizen leaders a democracy requires. And, ultimately, our nation fails the test.”

“The common sense outcry against the testing regime is gaining momentum across the nation,” said Dr. Leigh Patel, Associate Professor, Lynch School of Education, Boston College. “This anti-testing statement reminds all of us who are interested in the welfare of children to join together to stop the madness that has conflated learning with test score production for the benefit of testing corporations.”

Dr. Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, also helped initiate the statement. “Across the nation, parents, students, teachers, other community members and academics are saying, ‘Enough!’ to the overuse and misuse of standardized tests,” Neill said. “This statement by a broad range of Massachusetts professors and researchers is an important addition to the growing national test reform movement.”

See full list of endorsers here.