Forward together. Not one step back.

2016-Lincoln_Howard

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

IMG_4798 (1)

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.

IMG_4845

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.

BPSatSOS2016

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.

DianeRSOS2016

Diane Ravitch addresses the crowd

Forward together. Not one step back.

#BlackLivesMatter #PeoplesMarch16

 

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

DEY Co-Director/teacher/mother

 

SOS2016

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Livestream DEY Session at the NPE Conference: Saturday, April 16 at 2:30 EDT

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

DEY Senior Advisor Nancy Carlsson-Paige and DEY National Board member Denisha Jones will join Susan Ochshorn and Michelle Gunderson in a panel discussion entitled, “T-E-S-T, not P-L-A-Y is a Four-Letter Word: Putting the Young Child and the Teacher at the Center of Education Reform” during the third annual Network for Public Education conference, held in Raleigh, North Carolina.  The session will be held on Saturday, April 16 from 2:30 to 3:45 pm (EDT). Livestream their session by clicking here. Several other keynotes and sessions will be livestreamed as well.

Parents and educators stand together against growing test stress in children

Parents Across America

PAA has also sent letters to the National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics asking that they investigate our concerns that high-stakes standardized testing has become a health hazard for our nation’s public school children.

According to Dr. Isabel Nuñez, Associate Professor in the Center for Policy and Social Justice, Concordia University Chicago:

“High-stakes testing is doing children grievous mental and emotional harm. Parents Across America has gathered overwhelming evidence of the destructive psychological impact of test anxiety. For your children’s sake, read and be outraged!”

Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor in the department of Psychology, Boston College, added:

“The evidence is overwhelming that our national mania for testing–and for so much time in school and at schoolwork–is damaging the physical and psychological health of our children. I appreciate the work of Parents Across America and sincerely hope that the educational 4 kids at deskspowers that be start to listen. What we have today is, essentially, state-mandated child abuse.”

Testing in the early years, which is strongly opposed by early childhood professionals, is taking a toll. According to Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige:

“As we see testing increasingly edge out play and active learning in classrooms for young kids, we also see more and more children who don’t like school, who feel way too much pressure, who don’t want to go to this place that feels so uncomfortable and out of synch with who they are and what they need.”

A research paper recently published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests a correlation between the increased academic pressure on young children and the significant increase in ADHD diagnoses (Brosco).

Coping skills, “stealth” assessments not the answer

Much of the literature on test anxiety focuses on how to help children cope with the stress. In contrast, PAA believes the cause of the stress itself must be addressed. No child should be exposed to prolonged, intense stress, which can inhibit brain function and take a toll on mental health.

PAA is not simply asking for an end to high-stakes, one-shot testing. Parents are demanding that no child be harmed in the assessment process. We know that test publishers and education entrepreneurs are already developing new ways to label, sort and profile students through high-tech devices now taking over classrooms. This may not create as much stress but carries other dangers such as:

  • Constant collection of student data via online websites, apps, and programs without parental notification.
  • Embedded or “stealth” assessments – students will not even be aware if their work is being used for high-stakes purposes.
  • A significant increase in the amount of screen time children are exposed to – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a two hour per day screen time limit for children.

PAA has many other concerns about the misuse and overuse of standardized tests which we have detailed in previous position papers and fact sheets (see, for example, “Testing and ESEA,” http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/TestingandESEA1-15-15.pdf and “Why More Standardized Tests Won’t Improve Education” http://parentsacrossamerica.org/2011/09/why-more-standardized-tests-wont-improve-education/.boy with glasses

Our full position paper with recommendations and endorsements can be found here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/educator-endorsements-paa-test-stress-position-paper/

Our one-page fact sheet on test stress is here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Test-Stress-facts-2-1-16rev.pdf

and our background paper is here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Test-Stress-Doc-full1-28-16.pdf

A downloadable pdf version of our position paper is here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/TestStressPositionrev2-1-16.pdf

To learn more about testing or PAA, please visit www.parentsacrossamerica.org or email us at:info@parentsacrossamerica.org.

Contacts:

  • Julie Woestehoff, Interim Executive Director, Parents Across America, 773-175-3989
  • Laura Bowman, leader of PAA-Roanoke Valley (VA), 540-819-6385
  • Danielle Arnold-Schwartz, leader of PAA- Suburban Philadelphia (PA), 215-498-2549

 

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

by a Disheartened First Grade Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Why are our CCSS concerns ignored?

On Twitter this week, a teacher asked DEY why our concerns regarding the Common Core State Standards and young children are being ignored. One big part of the puzzle is money. The Gates Foundation has spent $200 million dollars creating and promoting the Common Core State Standards. And corporations such as Pearson are laughing all the way to bank. Political commentator/comedian John Oliver described Pearson has having a “shocking amount of influence over American schools” in this scathing report on standardized testing. And POLITICO reports that Pearson “has reaped the benefits: Half its $8 billion in annual global sales comes from its North American education division. But Pearson’s dominance does not always serve U.S. students or taxpayers well. A POLITICO investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas. The review also found Pearson’s contracts set forth specific performance targets — but don’t penalize the company when it fails to meet those standards.” Read more.

It is incredibly difficult to break through all the money that is flowing in support of the Common Core, in order to get our message across. This recent letter to the editor of the Boston Globe by DEY’s director Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin helps illustrate what we are up against (published July 21, 2015 under the title A David-Goliath clash over what’s best for young kids):

CHRIS BERDIK does an excellent job outlining Defending the Early Years’ arguments against the Common Core standards for kindergarten in the June 14 Ideas piece “The end of kindergarten?” He also reports on the support for the Common Core from another nonprofit, Student Achievement Partners.

Here are some important additional notes for your readers: Student Achievement Partners was founded by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel, and Jason Zimba, lead writers of the Common Core. In 2012 Student Achievement Partners was given $6.5 million in grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In fact, the Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million to implement the Common Core.

Defending the Early Years was founded, in 2012, by a coalition of concerned early-childhood educators who saw the writing on the wall and wanted to fight back. Last year our operating budget, all from donations from our supporters, was about .006 percent of what Student Achievement Partners received from the Gates Foundation in 2012. Our mission is clear, grounded in research, and based on what is best for young children.

 

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

Director, Defending the Early Years

 

It is true that here at DEY we have a tiny fraction of the budget that the CCSS promoters have, but what we DO have is early childhood expertise, experience, and decades of research on our side. The only thing we are working to promote is what is in the best interest of young children. And we are concerned that this entire focus on the Common Core has become a distraction, based on fallacy, from the underlying inequalities brought on by poverty. In fact, the CCSS has created another layer of stress in the lives of children – many of whom are already growing up with toxic stress.

With our limited budget, we have already reached millions of people with our three research-based advocacy papers published this year. We are making some noise and are pushing the conversation in the right direction. We want to do more and we need to keep going. For example, we are starting to translate some of our work into Spanish. We know this is important and we are committed to making it happen. If you are moved to support DEY with a tax deductible financial contribution, now is a great time. We have actually have a summer special (see below). We also urge all of DEY’s friends and supporters to continue to fight the good fight and to speak out with well-reasoned arguments in defense of developmentally appropriate curricula, standards and assessments for our young children.

SUMMER FUNDRAISING THANKS!
 
This summer we are offering a special thanks to all donors:
DonateNow
  • Donate $50.00 – we will send you a copy of Lively Minds!
  • Donate $100.00 – we will send you two reports – Lively Minds and Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose
  • Donate $200 or more – we will send you all three reports! Lively Minds, Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose PLUS Kamii’s paper on the CCSS math standards K-3!
  Please check out our donation page. Thank you!